Tabor, Fresno Pacific granted antidiscrimination exemptions

Presidents cite gender-identity issues, court's redefinition of marriage

Jan 4, 2016 by and

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Both U.S. Mennonite Brethren institutions of higher learning are among about three dozen colleges and universities that have been granted waivers exempting them from some federal antidiscrimination laws.

President Jules Glanzer of Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kan., sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education requesting a Title IX exemption Dec. 3, 2014. Fresno (Calif.) Pacific University President Richard Kriegbaum sent a similar letter June 2, 2015.

Title IX is a 1972 federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded educational program or activity. While it is best known for mandating equal spending on men’s and women’s athletics, Title IX also requires fair treatment for pregnant and parenting students and is intended to protect students from sexual harassment.

When the law was passed, Congress added a provision that educational institutions “controlled by a religious organization” do not have to comply if the law is not consistent with the organization’s religious tenets. That exemption got muddied in 2014 when the White House issued guidance that Title IX’s discrimination prohibition extends to claims “based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity.” In other words, schools receiving federal funding can’t discriminate against transgender and gender nonconforming people.

Glanzer said the departments of Education and Justice have recently interpreted Title IX to cover not only gender but also a person’s self-declared gender identity, which may differ from gender at birth.

“As a result, an educational institution may be required to allow a student of one gender who presents themself as being of the other gender, to use the restrooms, locker rooms and living accommodations of the other gender and to participate in the athletic programs of the other gender,” said Glanzer in an email responding to questions.

Since Tabor is owned by four districts of the U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, Glanzer said the board of directors determined Tabor should seek an exemption.

“We cannot in good conscious [sic] support or encourage an individual to live in conflict with biblical principles in any area, including gender and gender identity,” Glanzer wrote in Tabor’s request, which asked for exemption from compliance with the interpretation of Title IX that includes gender identity under the scope of discrimination.

“Other schools have sought considerably broader exemptions, but Tabor has not done so,” he said. “The exemption granted to Tabor does not deal with sexual orientation and in no way disqualifies any person from applying or being accepted as a student at Tabor.

“It does allow us to require students to live within the guidelines that govern how we live life together on campus and allows us to maintain gender distinctiveness in a manner consistent with the Confession of Faith and other governing documents.”

Legal assurances

FPU President Richard Kriegbaum cited a slightly different reason for his request.

“When the Supreme Court re-defined civil marriage, we, like many other Christian institutions, needed to review some of our policies to ensure that the intent of our policies would continue to be achieved under the new legal and social conditions,” he said in an email, although FPU’s request was dated nearly a month before the court announced its decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

He said FPU had received legal assurance from the federal government that the Supreme Court’s ruling would not affect FPU’s application of the MB Confession of Faith to the university’s policies, but FPU also “accepted counsel recommending that we should seek confirmation from the federal government that there was no change in the religious exemption under which we have been operating.”

Kriegbaum’s letter follows similar themes to Glanzer’s requests for exemption from Title IX regulations “to the extent that they conflict with Fresno Pacific University’s freedom to respond to matters of gender identity.” It mentions its gender-specific housing policies and asks for exemptions from a list of specific regulations, including topics such as admission, recruitment, financial aid, marital status, employment and athletics.

The Human Rights Campaign reports sexual orientation enforcement exemptions have been granted to 23 colleges and universities. The more specific gender identity enforcement exemption has been granted to those schools and also to 10 others, including Tabor and FPU. No other Mennonite colleges are reported to have requested Title IX exemptions.

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