PLNU in violation of Title IX, legal experts say
PLNU is in violation of a federal law that requires non-discrimination of LGBTQ individuals and is at risk of losing significant federal funding, according to lawyers from the Student Press Law Center and an LGBTQ task force.
Victoria M. Rodríguez-Roldán, director of the trans/gender non-conforming project at the national LGBTQ task force, said the violation could also put PLNU at risk of a lawsuit.
Fifty-seven colleges and universities have applied for waivers from a Title IX amendment that prevents discrimination on college campuses receiving federal funding, claiming that the requirement conflicts with the schools’ religious beliefs.
“The waiver is not an automatic affair; it has to be applied for and granted by U.S. DoE’s OCR (Office for Civil Rights),” Rodríguez-Roldán said.
Northwest Nazarene University (NNU) and Southern Nazarene University (SNU) have applied for the waiver.
PLNU hasn’t applied for this waiver, possibly putting them in violation of the regulations set by the U.S Department of Education.
The PLNU student handbook states the school’s opposition to transgender identification.
The handbook reads: “We affirm that maleness and femaleness are divinely created for each individual and are not matters to be determined by personal preference.”
The handbook adds that residential life housing assignments, intercollegiate athletic team assignments, as well as the use of “single gender” restrooms and locker rooms should all be consistent with “assigned sex at birth.”
“If you’re going to implement these policies then do it legally,” said Sean Noe, a sophomore psychology major. “It appears that other universities have done that so I don’t know why Point Loma hasn’t.”
PLNU’s Title IX Coordinator Caye Smith said the school needs the policy stated in the handbook to uphold its standards as a Christian university.
“We abide by traditional Christian understanding of the sanctity of marriage and marriage being defined male and female and (…) sexual intimacy being expressed within marriage,” Smith said. “So when Title IX says we must fully affirm all sexual orientations and identities, it is a challenge for us.”
The Title IX amendment attempts to alleviate the challenge by giving an exemption to religious universities that allow them to discriminate based on religious grounds.
“This section shall not apply to any educational institution which is controlled by a religious organization if the application of this subsection would not be consistent with the religious tenets of such organization,” said the exemption from the U.S. Department of Education that oversees and enforces the Title IX statute.
However, a regulation from the U.S. Department of Education said a university must identify “the provisions of this part which conflict with a specific tenet of the religious organization” in order get a waiver in order to be freely exempt on religious grounds.
And PLNU has not filed for a waiver, according to President Bob Brower and Smith, which would put the university in violation of the Title IX amendment according to the two lawyers.
“We have not submitted a letter in writing which is typically called a waiver—we have not requested a formal waiver,” Smith said.
Rodríguez-Roldán said Title IX was created to prevent discrimination and that there are specific regulations a religious university needs to follow if they want to be exempt.
Student Press Law Center Attorney Advocate Adam Goldstein agrees with Rodríguez-Roldán and said failure to claim the exemption means a university can’t exercise their religious beliefs against Title IX.
“A policy that discriminates is already a violation of Title IX,” Goldstein said. “This [applying for a waiver] requires a university to [clarify why they need to] discriminate before discriminating then later doing so.”
But Smith disagrees with the lawyers and said many people interpret the law differently and added that PLNU is covered under the Title IX amendment and doesn’t need to apply for a waiver.
“We would assert is that this language that implicit in the language of the law [Title IX amendment] is that the law allows us to practice our religious beliefs,” Smith said.
PLNU Alumnus Dane Cardiel, who gathered more than 100 signatures from alumni and current PLNU students who disapprove of the student handbook policy, said he is filing a formal comment with the Western Association of Schools & Colleges (WASC) and is listing violations he believes will affect the school’s accreditation.
He added that he would like to see the policy change or more dialogue about the policy being changed before students get “hurt” by this policy.
“Point Loma is exposed right now and they have to respond now and acknowledge this as a problem,” Cardiel said.
Rodríguez-Roldán said if PLNU is discriminating without a waiver, a complaint can be filed with the Office for Civil rights of the U.S. Department of Education.