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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Is Baylor exempt from Title IX necessities on LGBTQ sexual harassment?

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The Biden administration has informed Baylor College that it might be exempt from federal guidelines regarding the harassment of scholars based mostly on their LGBTQ+ standing, if it may well present that doing so conflicts with its spiritual tenets. However the Schooling Division has not but granted Baylor’s request to dismiss complaints to the division from LGBTQ+ college students that prompted the college to hunt the exemption.

Title IX bans discrimination based mostly on intercourse and requires schools and universities to stop and handle sexual harassment. Nonetheless, spiritual schools and universities can search an exemption if the necessities aren’t according to the spiritual tenets of the group that controls the establishment.

The college argued in a letter to the division in Might that civil rights complaints accusing Baylor of, amongst different issues, not responding to sexual harassment claims from an LGBTQ+ pupil must be dismissed as a result of the necessities battle with the establishment’s spiritual tenets. Baylor officers informed the division that it’s exempt from any necessities beneath Title IX regarding sexual orientation or gender identification.

An advocacy group that tracks spiritual exemptions asserted that the division’s resolution to exempt Baylor from sexual harassment claims is the primary of its sort, and that the transfer would endanger queer college students on the college. The college mentioned in an announcement that the spiritual exemption “is being mischaracterized as a broad-based exception to sexual harassment coverage inside Title IX rules.”

“As an alternative, Baylor is responding to present concerns by the U.S. Division of Schooling to maneuver to an expanded definition of sexual harassment, which might infringe on Baylor’s rights beneath the U.S. Structure, in addition to Title IX, to conduct its affairs in a way according to its spiritual beliefs,” Baylor spokeswoman Lori Fogleman mentioned within the assertion. “Baylor has taken and can proceed to take significant steps to make sure members of the LGBTQ neighborhood are cherished, cared for and guarded as part of the Baylor Household.”

Paul Southwick, director of the Non secular Exemption Accountability Venture (REAP), which additionally filed complaints with the division’s Workplace for Civil Rights over Baylor’s remedy of LGBTQ college students, mentioned pupil security is at stake on this resolution.

“The federal government is siding with spiritual exemption claims, even when pupil security from harassment is concerned and I feel any cheap individual would say that goes approach too far,” he mentioned.

Southwick clarified that it’s not uncommon or new for spiritual schools to hunt exemptions from federal rules or legal guidelines; solely the exemption from sexual harassment claims is unprecedented. The Non secular Exemption Accountability Venture has sued to dam the federal authorities from permitting such exemptions from Title IX.

An Schooling Division spokesman directed Inside Greater Ed to the Workplace for Civil Rights’ letter to Baylor, affirming the college’s spiritual exemptions from Title IX. The letter from Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights, affirms that the division is granting the exemption, however consists of the qualifier (emphasis added) “to the extent that they’re inconsistent with the College’s spiritual tenets.”

It provides: “Please notice that this letter shouldn’t be construed to grant exemption from the necessities of Title IX and the rules aside from as acknowledged above. Within the occasion that OCR receives a grievance in opposition to your establishment, we’re obligated to find out initially whether or not the allegations fall throughout the exemption right here acknowledged.”

Scott A. Roberts, a lawyer who focuses on Title IX for the Boston agency of Hirsch Roberts Weinstein, mentioned it was vital to notice that Baylor didn’t declare—and the Schooling Division letter didn’t affirm—that stopping and addressing harassment based mostly on sexual orientation or gender identification does battle with the college’s spiritual tenets.

“What I don’t see within the letter from Baylor is how addressing energetic harassment in opposition to LGBTQ+ college students is opposite to or inconsistent with a non secular tenet,” Roberts mentioned. “Their coverage and public statements acknowledge that these college students exist, and that the college loves, helps and cares for them, They are saying, ‘we love, help and can defend you.’ So I don’t see how it could be inconsistent with their spiritual tenets to take motion in opposition to anyone who harasses these college students.”

Baylor sought the exemption after the Schooling Division’s Workplace for Civil Rights began investigating complaints that accused the college of tolerating sexual harassment based mostly on sexual orientation or gender identification, denying recognition of an LGBTQ pupil group, and urgent college media to not report on LGBTQ occasions and protests in September and October 2021. (The complaints had been filed in 2021, and the college granted the coed group a constitution in 2022.)

“As a result of every of Baylor’s guidelines and insurance policies at problem derives from Baylor’s spiritual tenets as a Baptist college, Baylor’s enforcement of these guidelines and insurance policies is absolutely exempt from any necessities beneath Title IX regarding sexual orientation or gender identification,” Baylor President Linda Livingstone wrote in a letter to OCR requesting the exemption.

The college needed assurances that “Baylor couldn’t be present in violation of Title IX on the grounds that the idea in or apply of its spiritual tenets by the college or its college students constitutes ‘unwelcome conduct,’” in response to a footnote within the request.

Veronica Penales, an LGBTQ+ pupil who graduated from Baylor this spring, mentioned in a Title IX grievance in 2021 filed by the Non secular Exemption Accountability Venture that she confronted harassment based mostly on her sexual orientation whereas a pupil at Baylor. The harassment included being known as a homophobic slur. College students additionally repeatedly posted sticky notes on her dorm room door that mentioned “f-a-g.”

“They did it repeatedly, and she or he reported it to the college and they didn’t defend her,” mentioned Southwick of REAP. “That’s primarily what they had been making an attempt to be immune from. Failure to reply to that sort of horrible harassment.”

Baylor’s letter in Might, which prompted the Workplace for Civil Rights’ response final month, requested to have these complaints dismissed. Given the vital qualifier within the Biden administration’s letter about requiring proof that defending college students from sexual harassment conflicts with the college’s spiritual tenets, dropping these complaints can be the true take a look at that the federal government is giving Baylor latitude to not defend queer college students from harassment, Roberts mentioned.

“The proof can be within the pudding” when the division guidelines on the complaints, he mentioned.

Southwick mentioned he’s unsure how the exemption will have an effect on the complaints.

“That is unchartered territory in relation to sexual harassment,” he mentioned. “What I can inform you is that the Division of Schooling has by no means denied a non secular exemption and when a faculty has asserted one, traditionally, for our complaints involving queer and trans college students, they’ve all the time dismissed the investigations afterward.”

Penales mentioned in an announcement offered by REAP that she was “saddened by Baylor’s lack of integrity and accountability to their college students.”

“I do know many is not going to really feel secure returning to campus, and rightfully so,” the assertion continued. “If Baylor believes it has a non secular liberty proper to permit us to be harassed, there actually are not any protections left for us.”

The Baylor LGBTQ pupil group shared information concerning the exemption and reminded college students to watch out.

“We nonetheless exist and in neighborhood will proceed to thrive,” the group wrote.

One Baylor graduate requested on X, the platform formally often known as Twitter, “what number of queer college students can be harassed and abused on the hand of a ‘Christian’ college?”

“Baylor doesn’t care,” the person wrote.

Doug Lederman contributed to this text.



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