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America is a diverse nation, full of different viewpoints of opinions and beliefs about the best way to live. And that is one of our great strengths: that from the very beginning, the founders of our nation envisioned a society in which different perspectives could exist side by side without undue government interference.
In a crucial ruling this month, a federal court in Eugene, Oregon, sided with Americans who still believe in that vision. The judge dismissed a lawsuit that was attempting to punish religious colleges and universities for operating in accordance with their deeply held beliefs. This dismissal is a victory for all Americans who believe in freedom of expression and diversity of thought.
The lawsuit began in 2021, where, with the help of an activist attorney, a group of LGBT students at Christian colleges and universities sued the U.S. Department of Education, claiming that their colleges’ explicitly stated religious beliefs were discriminatory and harmful to them. Though LGBT activists sued a federal government agency, they were clearly targeting private religious colleges and universities.
This is where the situation gets a little suspect. Many of these colleges explicitly state on their websites and in promotional materials their Christian convictions and the conduct they expect from students. The students involved in the lawsuit all chose to attend these colleges, knowing that these colleges would ask them to conduct themselves in accordance with biblical standards of sexuality. Then they tried to punish these colleges for doing exactly that.
Because of the way the federal government interprets “sex,” LGBT activists claim that any kind of different treatment on the basis of sex — including sex-specific dorm rooms, bathrooms, and locker rooms — is discriminatory under Title IX. That federal law, however, grants exemptions to religious colleges and universities, meaning that these colleges are allowed to hold their students to a standard of sexual behavior consistent with the colleges’ beliefs. The lawsuit claimed that religious colleges should not be eligible for these exemptions because they receive public funding.
By extension, this lawsuit implied that religious college students — and only religious college students — do not deserve the choice to attend a college that respects their beliefs. That’s wrong. No American should be punished for choosing to honor their beliefs.
The intent of the lawsuit was to push the Department of Education into bullying religious colleges and universities to abandon their convictions. Notably, it did not name the colleges in the lawsuit, meaning that these colleges would not have the opportunity to defend themselves. The only group that would be defending the colleges was the Department of Education — and in the early stages of the lawsuit, the department did not look eager to do that. This lawsuit, if successful, would have punished religious colleges and the young people who choose to attend them for just one reason: their beliefs.
That is unconstitutional, so Alliance Defending Freedom filed a request to be allowed to represent in the lawsuit a few of the Christian colleges targeted by it, because we were concerned that the Department of Education was not prepared to give a robust defense of religious schools’ freedom.
This concern proved to be warranted. The Department of Education planned to make only procedural arguments, asserting that the lawsuit was untenable on a technicality. It did not plan to defend Christian colleges on the merits of the case; in other words, it did not plan to aggressively stand up for religious freedom. And more than that, the Department of Education did not want us to step in. Originally, it opposed the ADF motion to intervene. Only after the court admitted us to the case did the department present a defense of freedom for religious colleges, following many of ADF’s arguments in its briefs.
This case is just one of many in which activists are trying to erase freedom of conscience for people of faith across America. Our nation is founded on the idea that everyone has the right to live in accordance with their beliefs — and that the government should not punish people solely because of what they believe.
But right now, a culture of hostility exists toward religious organizations and individuals in our nation. From legal attacks on individuals like Jack Phillips and Barronelle Stutzman to faith-based adoption agencies facing the loss of their licenses and religious nonprofits and churches threatened with the loss of their tax-exempt status, there is a nationwide push to treat religious Americans as second-class citizens because of their beliefs. And the Department of Education may have let that happen — until some religious colleges and universities were willing to step up.
Protecting freedom of conscience for one person or group protects freedom for all of us. The outcome of this particular case shows us that the first step toward protecting freedom is showing up — and sometimes, that’s enough to turn the tide.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.