Metro Weekly

USDA Exempts Religious Schools From Non-Discrimination Rules

To receive federal funding for the National School Lunch Program, most schools must prohibit homophobic and transphobic discrimination — but not faith-based schools.

Religious schools can get an automatic exemption from Title IX’s nondiscrimination requirements and still receive federal meal funding, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.

Private and public schools alike participate in the National School Lunch Program, which funds meals for millions of students across the country.

In May, the USDA had announced that schools participating in NSLP must create policies prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

But after lawsuits from a religious school and conservative-led states, the USDA clarified on August 12 that religious schools participating in NSLP can continue allowing discrimination against LGBTQ students and staff.

“USDA regulations do not require a religious educational institution to submit a written request for a Title IX exemption in order to claim that exemption,” the memo read.

The controversy stems from debates around Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs. In a change from the Trump administration, the Biden administration has interpreted Title IX as also banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The USDA’s announcement this May fell in line with Biden’s interpretation.

“State and local agencies, program operators and sponsors that receive funds from [the Food and Nutrition Service] must investigate allegations of discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation,” a May 5 press release read.

“Those organizations must also update their non-discrimination policies and signage to include prohibitions against discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.”

On July 26, twenty-two states signed onto a lawsuit filed against the USDA policy. Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, who led the lawsuit alongside Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III, claimed the Biden administration was denying food to low-income students unless “schools do the Left’s bidding.”

The states that signed the lawsuit are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia.

Grant Park Christian Academy, a Florida religious school, also sued in late July to ask for an exemption to the non-discrimination rules.

According to Alliance Defending Freedom, which has been designated an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the school received its exemption nine days after filing its lawsuit.

Now, religious schools receive that exemption without having to ask, though the USDA’s August memo did specify that a school can submit a written request for recognition of its exemption if it so desires.

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