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Congresswoman wants to shame Catholic colleges for defending Church teaching

Colleges that embrace and defend the Catholic faith in their policies should be applauded for being true to their missions, not shamed.
Tue May 10, 2016 - 1:08 pm EST
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Congresswoman Katherine Clark contends that religious institutions are using the Title IX exemption as a way to carry out unjust discrimination.

May 10, 2016 (Cardinal Newman Society) -- A member of Congress from Massachusetts is hoping to use the force of the federal government to brand faithful Catholic colleges as discriminatory against students who experience same-sex attraction or gender identity issues.

Rep. Katherine Clark introduced legislation in Congress recently to force faithful Catholic colleges and other religious institutions of higher learning to publish documents “in a prominent location” on their websites if they request religious exemptions from “gender identity” applications of Title IX — exemptions that were explicitly written into the federal education law to protect religious education.

The bill also requires the Department of Education to publish the same information on its website. But following lobbying from LGBT activist groups, the Department has already voluntarily published a searchable database in April of all colleges that have ever requested religious exemptions to Title IX.

Title IX of the Education Amendments was signed into law in 1972 and was designed “to avoid the use of federal money to support sex discrimination in education programs and to provide individual citizens effective protection against those practices.” The Obama administration expanded its interpretation of Title IX in April 2014 to include “discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity.” The expansion of the law’s application was done without any action by Congress.

Anticipating potential conflicts with religion and respecting the First Amendment’s assurance of religious freedom, Title IX allows educational institutions to seek exemptions “to the extent that the law’s requirements conflict with the organization’s religious tenets.” Since the redefinition of Title IX in 2014, five Catholic colleges and dozens of other religious colleges have applied for the religious exemption with the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. In most cases, the Obama administration has approved the exemptions — but Clark wants to punish the colleges anyhow.

Clark contends that religious institutions are using this exemption as a way to carry out unjust discrimination. “While religious institutions of education have the right to exercise faith, the surge of discrimination disguised as faith is disturbing and deserves transparency,” she stated in a press release.

Clark is working with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) to push the legislation and quoted an HRC official in her press release. HRC is one of the groups that has lobbied the Obama administration to publish the list of colleges requesting Title IX exemptions, branding them as “discriminatory.” It is uncertain how involved HRC was in the proposed legislation, but the organization has been known to actively oppose and encourage others to oppose the Church on same-sex marriage and other issues, as evidenced by numerous resources and statements on its website.

LGBTQ activists endorsed Clark in 2013 when she first ran for Congress citing her support for same-sex marriage and “transgender nondiscrimination protections.” This past November, Clark signed a letter urging the Massachusetts legislature to pass a transgender “non-discrimination” bill that opponents said “would endanger the privacy and safety of women and children in public bathrooms, locker rooms and dressing rooms, and allow sexual predators to claim confusion about their gender in order to gain access to private areas.”

To Clark, long-held Church teachings that human beings are created male and female and sexual activity ought to be reserved to man and wife are only “disguised as faith” to unjustly discriminate against certain persons. The Catholic Church also teaches that no form of unjust discrimination should ever be tolerated, and that should always be the case at Catholic colleges. The moral teachings of the Catholic faith, as communicated by Christ and His Church, are expressions of God’s love, meant to guide all of humanity toward eternal salvation. Deviating from these teachings compromises the Catholic identity and mission of Catholic colleges and could endanger the spiritual welfare of students.

What Clark is essentially saying is that the freedom of religion safeguarded by the Constitution should be ignored and that Catholic colleges should be forced to compromise long-held religious beliefs.

Colleges that embrace and defend the Catholic faith in their policies should be applauded for being true to their missions and not succumbing to the harmful idea that a person is defined by what they perceive to be their sexual orientation or gender identity.

What Catholic Colleges Are Saying About Title IX

The Cardinal Newman Society has encouraged all Catholic colleges to seek Title IX exemptions. Four Catholic colleges — Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, N.C.; Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio; St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee, Okla.; and John Paul the Great Catholic University (JPCatholic) in Escondido, Calif. — have received the exemption since the Obama administration changed Title IX in 2014. A request by the University of Dallas in Irving, Texas, is still pending. All five colleges are recommended as faithful Catholic institutions in The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College.

Belmont Abbey College regards itself as a fully Catholic institution, acting in accord with the teachings of the Catholic Church, and bases its institutional and administrative decisions on that identity, according to its letter of request sent to the Department of Education.

“We do not, therefore, support or affirm the resolution of tension between one’s biological sex and the experience of gender by the adoption of a psychological identity discordant with one’s birth sex, nor attempts to change one’s birth sex by surgical intervention, nor conduct or dress consistent with an identity other than one’s biological birth sex,” the letter stated. “We will make institutional decisions in light of this policy regarding housing, student admission and retention, appropriate conduct, employment, hiring and retention, and other matters.”

Abbot Placid Solari, O.S.B., chancellor of Belmont Abbey, told the Newman Society last December that the broadening of Title IX to include gender identity threatened the College’s religious mission and would force the College to advocate practices that are “spiritually harmful.”

“A policy which would legitimize gender identity issues …would, first of all, abdicate the responsibility of the college community as a whole to act in accord with its fundamental identity as a community which publicly identifies itself as in communion with the Catholic Church,” he said. He added that such a policy “would contradict fidelity to the Christian message as it comes through the Church” and “would abdicate responsibility to serve the transcendent goal of life by advocating practices which, according to the Church's teaching, are spiritually harmful.”

In its own letter of request, Franciscan University agreed that making accommodations — whether in locker rooms, bathrooms or housing — on the basis of gender identity would be “diametrically opposed” to the “University’s Catholic mission and identity and to the tenets of the Catholic Church, including deeply-held Catholic religious beliefs on human sexuality.”

Moreover, Franciscan University clarified that it sought the exemption not only because the law’s interpretation is inconsistent with Catholic belief, but also because it would necessarily “infringe Franciscan’s right to carry out its religious mission and severely impair Franciscan’s ability to express its distinctly Catholic message on human sexuality.”

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Catholic universities have both a social and spiritual obligation, and one cannot be ignored at the expense of the other, St. Gregory’s University explained in its letter of request. “St. Gregory’s University holds that each person is a precious human being made in God’s image and likeness,” the letter stated. Therefore the University has a responsibility to reflect that belief in its policies and to remain “committed to developing each student in mind, faith and character,” the University later added.

JPCatholic stated that the current interpretation of Title IX curtails the University’s “freedom to respond to transgender individuals in accordance with its theological-grounded convictions.”

“The JPCatholic policy on gender identity affirms that one’s gender identity is based upon one’s biological sex as defined by natural law, a naturally knowable and universally binding law of right and wrong, and holds firmly that any tension between one’s biological sex and experience of gender identity should not be resolved through medical intervention or adoption of dress practices of the opposite biological sex,” the University stated. “Gender confusion, although not a new experience, is a human confusion in need of God’s healing. Any policy in opposition to and betraying our mission and the teachings of the Catholic Church would harm the JPCatholic community.”

To call these faithful Catholic institutions “dangerous” and places of “harassment,” as HRC and Clark have done, is ludicrous. These are colleges that teach daily the importance of love, beauty and truth — that embrace the dignity of each individual person and place the concern for souls above all institutional pursuits or secular expectations. And they should be given every opportunity to continue to carry out that mission free from unjust harassment by government officials. 

Reprinted with permission from The Cardinal Newman Society.


  belmont abbey college, catholic college, franciscan university of steubenville, gender identity, homosexuality, human rights campaign, katherine clark, massachusetts, obama, religious freedom, title ix

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