In letters to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) the presidents of five Catholic colleges cited their institutions’ faithfulness to Church teaching in explaining how the expansion of Title IX to include “gender identity” posed a significant threat to the religious mission of the colleges.
College requests for religious exemptions from Title IX were first published by the Obama administration last April following demands from radical activist groups seeking to “shame” faith-based colleges for defending their religious freedom. OCR updated the list on June 13.
The Obama administration expanded Title IX in 2014 without approval from Congress to include “discrimination based on gender identity or failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity.” But colleges can lawfully seek exemptions from sections of Title IX “to the extent that the law’s requirements conflict with the organization’s religious tenets.”
The information released by the Obama administration shows that only four Catholic colleges that are recipients of federal funds have received religious exemptions from Title IX’s “gender identity” provisions: 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 in Escondido, Calif. A request by the University of Dallas in Irving, Texas, is listed as pending.
All five colleges are recommended as faithful Catholic institutions in The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College. The Cardinal Newman Society has encouraged all Catholic colleges to seek the Title IX exemptions to protect their Catholic identity.
Self-identified lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer (LGBTQ) activists claim colleges have requested religious exemptions to Title IX’s new “gender identity” provisions to unjustly discriminate. But in their letters, Catholic college leaders explain what the Church teaches regarding human sexuality, and why being forced to violate those teachings would compromise the religious missions of their institutions.
Belmont Abbey College
In his letter requesting an exemption sent to OCR, Belmont Abbey President Dr. William Thierfelder explained that human beings were created male and female in the image and likeness of God, and that in the New Testament “Jesus confirms that the heterosexual creation of human beings expresses God’s creative intention.”
“On the basis of this biblical teaching, of our faith in the Incarnation of the Son of God, and of the constant teaching of the Catholic Church,” he said, “we believe that the creative intent of God is inextricably linked with our creation in the complementary reality of male and female sexual identity.” The letter stated in part:
Belmont Abbey is owned by and affiliated with the Southern Benedictine Society of North Carolina, Inc. whose Members are Benedictine Monks. The Monks founded the college on the basis of, and as an expression of, their Catholic faith. The Monks and the College itself, believe that the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God and thus has authority for all Christian life. On the basis of the Catholic faith, the Monks and the College also believe that the Church was founded by Jesus Christ and given authority by him authentically to interpret the Word of God and to teach with binding authority on questions of faith and morals. This authoritative teaching includes teaching about human sexuality and provides norms for morally acceptable behavior.
Belmont Abbey College and the sponsoring monastic community believe that human beings, fashioned by God in His own image and likeness, are thus created male and female (Genesis 1:27). The New Testament, Jesus confirms that the heterosexual creation of human beings expresses God’s creative intention (Matthew 19:4). On the basis of this biblical teaching, of our faith in the Incarnation of the Son of God, and of the constant teaching of the Catholic Church, we believe that the creative intent of God is inextricably linked with our creation in the complementary reality of male and female sexual identity. …
We affirm the dignity of all human beings and distinguish the inalienable dignity of each person from the behavioral choices a person makes. We believe that, as Catholics, we are called to treat all people with charity and respect, including those whose beliefs and behaviors differ from the teachings of the Catholic Church. We are not able, however, in good conscience to support or affirm choices and behaviors that conflict with our identity as a Catholic, Benedictine institution. 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. … 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.
Franciscan University of Steubenville
Franciscan University President Fr. Sean Sheridan, TOR, stated in his letter to OCR that “pursuant to Catholic theology, human beings are created male or female and every person’s body reveals his or her God-given sex/gender. These tenets of the Catholic Church are violated by manipulating one’s God-given sex or gender and/or by attempting to identify as the sex or gender opposite to one’s God-given sex/gender.”
The interpretation of Title IX [to include gender identity, gender expression, and nonconformity with gender stereotypes] is diametrically opposed to Franciscan University’s Catholic mission and identity and to the tenets of the Catholic Church, including deeply-held Catholic religious beliefs on human sexuality.
Pursuant to fundamental Catholic theology, each person is a unity of body and soul made in the image and likeness of God. Because of this, man is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day. Likewise, pursuant to Catholic theology, human beings are created male or female and every person’s body reveals his or her God-given sex/gender. These tenets of the Catholic Church are violated by manipulating one’s God-given sex or gender and/or by attempting to identify as the sex or gender opposite to one’s God-given sex/gender.
Requiring Franciscan University to comply with the [new interpretation of Title IX] would be contrary to and inconsistent with these fundamental tenets of the Catholic Church. It would also 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.
St. Gregory’s University
Then-University President Dr. Gregory Main stated in his letter: “As a Catholic institution, St. Gregory’s University … maintains that the human person consists of a unity between body and soul or spirit. This biblical-based and long-held doctrine is reiterated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which serves as a compendium of official Catholic teaching.”
Main explained that the Catholic faith “teaches that human sexual identity is not determined by subjective individual choice but by objective divine design, and that persons are and remain members of the sex into which they physically were born.”
In union with the teaching of the Catholic Church, St. Gregory’s University holds that each person is a precious human being made in God’s image and likeness, with a body and a soul. This dignity God bestowed upon our first parents as man and woman, as revealed in the Book of Genesis: “God created man in his image; / in the divine image he created him; / male and female he created them” (1:27).
As a Catholic institution, St. Gregory’s University further maintains that the human person consists of a unity between body and soul or spirit. This biblical-based and long-held doctrine is reiterated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which serves as a compendium of official Catholic teaching. Paragraph 365 of the Catechism reads: “The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the ‘form’ of the body; i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature” (365).
The integration of soul and body in the human person described above is manifested in the divinely ordered genders of male and female, both of which share in equal dignity. The Catechism, echoing the Book of Genesis, emphasizes this: “Man and woman have been created, which is to say, willed by God: on the one hand, in perfect equality as human persons; on the other, in their respective beings as man and woman. ‘Being man’ or ‘being woman’ is a reality which is good and willed by God: man and woman possess an inalienable dignity which comes to them immediately from God their Creator” (369).
Thus Catholic religious belief holds that human gender identity is established and ordered by God as a unity between soul and body and that it is manifested as male and female. The Catholic faith further teaches that human sexual identity is not determined by subjective individual choice but by objective divine design, and that persons are and remain members of the sex into which they physically were born. The policies of St. Gregory’s University as a Catholic institution reflect the above stated religious beliefs.
John Paul the Great
John Paul the Great (JPCatholic) President Dr. Derry Connolly stated in his letter requesting a religious exemption that the current interpretation of Title IX curtails the University’s “freedom to respond to transgender individuals in accordance with its theological-grounded convictions.”
He cited the University’s policy on human sexuality to explain their position on “gender identity”:
In accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ as preserved by His Catholic Church, the JPCatholic community believes that God created all humans — male and female in His image and likeness and with equal dignity, and that due to sin and human brokenness, our experience of our sex and gender is not always as God designed. In hope, we affirm God’s capacity to heal and transform our brokenness. 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 or practices of the opposite biological sex. 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. When individuals have questions about their gender identity, they are encouraged to approach any Priest on campus or in local parishes.
All institutional decisions are made consistent with institutional policies, including this policy, and include student admissions and retention, housing, employment hiring and retention and all other matters.
University of Dallas
University of Dallas President Thomas Keefe affirmed the University’s “obligation as a Catholic institution to accept all individuals with respect, compassion and sensitivity” in his letter to OCR, but stated that “in keeping with the tenets of our Catholic faith, the University cannot encourage individuals to live in conflict with Catholic principles.”
“As rooted in Catholic teachings, sexual identity is not a social construct but is an objective fact rooted in an individual’s very nature as either a female or male person,” he said. Keefe referenced the Old Testament and The Catechism of the Catholic Church:
The University of Dallas recognizes the Catholic tradition which holds that the basis of morality is found in the natural order which is established by God. The Old Testament confirms that God created human beings in his own image, creating both male and female (Genesis 1:27), and, like the rest of God’s creation, the sexual differences between man and woman are pronounced “very good.” (Genesis 1:31) As rooted in Catholic teachings, sexual identity is not a social construct but is an objective fact rooted in an individual’s very nature as either a female or male person. The Catechism of the Catholic Church confirms that “everyone, man and woman should acknowledge their sexual identity.” While the University of Dallas affirms its obligation as a Catholic institution to accept all individuals with respect, compassion and sensitivity, in keeping with the tenets of our Catholic faith, the University cannot encourage individuals to live in conflict with Catholic principles.
Recent decisions of the Department which required recipients of Federal funds to allow students to elect their housing accommodations based on gender identity and not based on their sex assigned at birth are inconsistent with the religious tenets of the Catholic Church.
Legislative Threats to Religious Freedom
Legislators at the federal and at the state level in California are now using the Obama administration’s new interpretation of Title IX to label faith-based colleges as discriminatory and punish these institutions for their religious beliefs.
While the bill introduced in the U.S. House attacking religious colleges isn’t likely to pass, the passage of similar legislation in California appears likely. If successful, other state legislatures might follow California’s lead in attacking the religious freedom of faith-based colleges. Critics argue the California bill would practically eliminate religious higher education in the state.
JPCatholic’s Connolly, whose University would be affected by the California legislation, told the Newman Society, “[T]he argument of discrimination against transgender citizens by faith-based colleges and universities is greatly exaggerated and false. The allegation of discrimination is the cover for what is truly an attack on religious freedom.”
Whether at the federal, state or local government level, attempts to force Catholic colleges to compromise their religious mission — or to punish colleges when they refuse to do so — represent an egregious abuse of government power and a heinous attack on fundamental religious freedoms that should concern every American.