Today a coalition of 19 states and the District of Columbia, led by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, filed an amicus brief with the U.S District Court for the District of Oregon in a class action case entitled Hunter v US Department of Education. The brief supports a lawsuit brought on behalf of students opposing the U.S. Department of Education’s (DOE) implementation of religious exceptions from Title IX anti-discrimination laws, which were weakened under the previous administration. Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded schools and requires that schools act to prevent discrimination and harassment on campus.
A full copy of the filing can be found here.
“It’s outrageous that the U.S. Department of Education under the Trump administration gutted protections for women, members of the LGBTQ+ community and other classes of students that have been in place for 40 years. The new rules put students at direct and serious risk of discrimination and harassment,” said Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. “Even worse, the rules allow schools to avoid providing notice to their students before they enroll as to whether or not they will comply with Title IX’s protections.”
When Congress enacted Title IX, it included a narrow exemption for schools controlled by religious institutions that have tenets incompatible with Title IX. However, during the Trump-era, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) used administrative rulemaking to vastly expand this narrow religious exemption. Under their rule, any school that claims its mission statement is predicated on religious beliefs can claim an exemption from Title IX’s antidiscrimination requirements. Also last year, DOE eliminated the requirement for schools to claim this exemption in writing to the United States Department of Education—making it much easier and faster for schools to be granted the exemption.
In August 2020, the DOE eliminated the rule that required educational institutions to advise the Office for Civil Rights in writing if it wanted a religious exemption. As a result, schools could invoke the exemption, without notice, in response to a student’s complaint. And then last November, 2020, DOE substantially expanded the scope of Title IX’s religious exemption.
“In combination, the rules harm students, place them at higher risk of being victims of sex discrimination, and make it more difficult to hold schools accountable for resulting harm. States have a duty to protect students from the short-term and long-term harm of discrimination and harassment. States also have an interest in ensuring that students can learn in an environment free from those harms. For those reasons, the States support plaintiffs in requesting that this court set aside the August 2020 and November 2020 rules,” the coalition wrote in the filing.
The amicus brief was led by Oregon Attorney General Rosenblum, and joined by the Attorneys General of CA, CT, DC, DE, HI, IL, MA, MD, MI, MN, NJ, NM, NV, NY, PA, VA, VT, and WA.