Christian College Challenges Biden’s Fair Housing Mandate
By Warren J. Blumenfeld, Ph.D., and Campus Pride
If someone were to ask you to explain what is meant by "Christian values" and how you define what is a "good Christian," how might you respond? Think about this for as long as you need.
Some answers people have shared with me include,
- Treat one's neighbor as oneself.
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
- Welcome the stranger in your midst.
- Give of yourself to others.
- Tithe what you can afford to the less fortunate.
- Judge not, or you will be judged.
- Give love and not hate.
- Follow the Ten Commandments.
- Do what Jesus would do in similar situations.
Considering this list plus others you have added, how would you respond in the following scenario?
On January 20, 2021, the Biden administration issued Executive Order 13988 on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation.
This executive order required federal agencies to review internal policies to ensure they comply with the U.S. Supreme Court's 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County. This case ruled that prohibitions against sex discrimination in the workplace contained in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 encompass discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
On February 11, 2021, the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a memorandum directing HUD offices and recipients of HUD funding to enforce the Fair Housing Act (FHA) with these new protections as directed.
Following release of HUD's February 11 memorandum, a Christian college in Missouri, College of the Ozarks, filed a lawsuit for a stay on this order, claiming the order violates the school's First Amendment right of freedom of religion.
C of O argued that the directive requires private religious colleges to open female showers, restrooms, and dorm rooms to biological males who assert a female gender identity, and vice versa.
A federal court dismissed the suit in a ruling on June 4 reasoning that the college had failed to show an "actual or imminent harm" that would give it standing to sue. However, C of O appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. In July, the 8th Circuit announced that it will hear oral arguments this November.
Since then, 14 Republican state attorneys general and three Baptist universities in Missouri have filed friend of the court or amicus briefs in support of C of O's case.
C of O's argument for a "religious" exemption to full FHA compliance raises interesting questions. By using the "freedom of religion" defense, college officials essentially assert that prejudice and discrimination against LGBTQ+ students in terms of housing accommodations stand as prime tenets of their religious values.
In other words, College of the Ozarks administrators imply that they refuse to treat their neighbors as themselves and are working to expel the strangers in their midst. Are these officials suggesting that this is how they themselves would wish to be treated?
Many of C of O's statements arguing for a stay on the order to comply with the updated FHA regulations read similarly to older arguments against LGBTQ+ people serving openly and proudly in the U.S. military. Under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, in place from 1993-2010, approximately 14,000 qualified military personnel were drummed out of service branches on the mere charge of being lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
Some of the arguments against LGBTQ+ individuals serving openly in the military hinged on fear of the "predatory nature of the homosexual" in bunks and showers.
However, even while the "don't ask, don't tell" policy was still in place, a 2010 Pentagon report found that at least 70% of military personnel believed that the repeal of the policy would have a positive, mixed, or no effect on the effectiveness of troops engaged in combat.
Rather than attempting to get around the updated FHA regulations by instigating lengthy, expensive lawsuits, College of the Ozarks and other Christian universities have a more equitable solution, one that does not shine a bright light of intolerance and oppressive reaction on these institutions of supposed "higher learning."
C of O and similar colleges could make single-use shower rooms, athletic changing rooms, bathrooms, and dormitory accommodations available for all students, including LGBTQ+ students. The overall expense to retrofit existing spaces would most likely cost significantly less than navigating multiple long and expensive judicial proceedings.
This option also has the potential of more closely aligning these institutions with the grounding tenets of Christian values and what it means to be a good Christian.
The case, however, raises larger questions about religious freedom and religious values along with issues of equity, fairness, freedom from oppression, and personal and societal liberation.
Individuals and organizations throughout history have used their sacred texts to justify and rationalize the marginalization, harassment, denial of rights, persecution, and oppression of entire groups of people — including LGBTQ+ individuals — based on their social identities.
Possibly the most influential and impactful social institutions maintaining and perpetuating oppression against LGBTQ+ people today are conservative religious denominations. In the United States, these are often Christian denominations.
When religious leaders promote harmful and destructive interpretations of their sacred texts regarding topics of same-sex sexuality and gender diversity, we as individuals and as a society must speak up and hold them accountable for ministering to those who harass, bully, and cause injury to people perceived as LGBTQ+.
I believe a major characteristic of liberation is the freedom for each of us to define ourselves and not be defined by other individuals and institutions.
So, I ask these conservative Christians, what would Jesus do now?
Feature Image: PeopleImages / E+ / Getty Images