(FiveNation.com)- Religious institutions protested new Title IX guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the spring, but the government agency clarified they won’t be held to that standard.
In a new document the USDA released on August 12, the agency clarified that religious schools aren’t required to submit a written request for an exemption to parts of Title IX for them to claim one. This means that religious schools won’t have to follow new regulations issued under Title IX to receive funding from the federal government for meals.
In May, the USDA broadened the definition of sex-based discrimination so it would include gender identity and sexual orientation. The agency added that any qualifying organization, including schools, that wanted to receive funding from the Food and Nutrition Service — which includes the National School Lunch Program — would have to update its policies to match the new guidance.
Many religious institutions protested immediately after the new guidance was announced, saying that infringed on freedom of religion and freedom of speech rights. They accused President Joe Biden’s administration of using school lunches as a lure to get certain organizations to abide by his progressive agenda.
That led the USDA to clarify its guidance, saying that the religious schools don’t have to apply for an exemption to Title IX. The agency also said there are other exemptions that exist for it.
One is that an institution can be exempt “if there is a conflict between Title IX and a school’s governing religious tenets.” This is the exemption that would cover religious schools in this new guidance.
One religious institution, Grant Park Christian Academy located in Tampa, Florida, sued the Biden administration in July over the new mandate. They filed the suit alongside Nikki Fried, the agriculture commissioner in Florida, saying that the new guidance would hinder the ability of the school to carry out its mission of getting students to develop “lifelong Christian character traits.”
After that lawsuit was filed, the Biden administration ultimately said an exemption would be granted to the private school, which serves about 60 students from pre-K through eighth grade, many of which fall into the low-income category.
That’s not the only legal challenge the new mandate has already faced, though. An attorneys’ group more than 20 strong sued the Biden administration in May. They argued it is both unlawful as well as unconstitutional, partly because it’s “based on misapplication of U.S. Supreme Court precedents.”
The person leading the lawsuit, Todd Rokita, the Republican attorney general of Indiana, commented on the suit:
“We all know the Biden administration is dead-set on imposing an extreme left-wing agenda on Americans nationwide. But they’ve reached a new level of shamelessness with this ploy of holding up food assistance for low-income kids unless schools do the Left’s bidding.”
The Alliance for Defending Freedom was representing the Tampa Christian school in its case. The organization released a statement last week, in which its legal counsel, Erica Steinmiller-Perdomo, said the Biden administration was “rightly honoring” what religious schools believe in.
“While it shouldn’t have taken a federal lawsuit, at least now, all religious schools like Grant Park Christian Academy who rely on the USDA’s funding to serve nutritious meals to kids in need can continue this vital service in their communities.”