Catholic bishops and educators are asking the Department of Education to reject a proposed rule change that would force K–12 schools and higher education institutions to allow biologically male students to participate in female athletics in certain cases if they receive federal funding.
The proposed rule would amend the current regulations set by Title IX to restructure how schools must address transgender issues in athletics. The rule would require institutions to allow some students to participate in athletics programs that match their self-proclaimed gender identity, even if it is different from the student’s biological sex.
The proposal would prevent across-the-board policies that restrict male sports to biological men and female sports to biological women but would allow schools that receive federal funding to limit participation in sports on a case-by-case basis. Schools, colleges, and universities would need to show, in individual cases, that limiting participation to biological males or females is necessary to preserve competitiveness or safety in that case.
A public comment filed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Catholic Educational Association, and The Catholic University of America on May 15 urges regulators to reject the proposal. The comment was filed on the last day of the public comment period.
“The [proposal] imposes an inaccurate view of human nature and sexuality,” the comment from the Catholic institutions said.
“It is internally inconsistent, unworkably vague, and fails to consider a significant aspect of the issue presented — the intersection of the [proposal’s] requirements with the Title IX religious exemption,” it continued. “We respectfully recommend that the Department abandon this rulemaking.”
The coalition argued that the proposed rule rests on an inaccurate view of gender.
“Human bodiliness is … intrinsically connected with human sexual differentiation,” the coalition wrote.
“Just as every human person necessarily has a body, so also human bodies, like those of other mammals, are sexually differentiated as male or female,” the comment continued.
“Just as bodiliness is a fundamental aspect of human existence, so is either ‘being a man’ or ‘being a woman’ a fundamental aspect of existence as a human being, expressing a person’s unitive and procreative finality.”
Catholic schools that receive federal funding could be affected by the restrictions, but religious institutions can request exemptions from policies that violate their religious beliefs. It is still unclear whether the Department of Education would grant Catholic schools an exemption to the rule or how the rule would affect Catholic institutions even if their exemptions are granted.
“Given the many religious schools subject to Title IX and the prevalence of relevant religious beliefs, the Department should clarify how the proposed rule applies to schools with religious beliefs contrary to the proposed rule’s requirements,” the USCCB, NCEA, and CUA comment read. “The application of the religious exemption to a religious school’s internal policies on sports participation should be straightforward: The school should be free to adhere to its religious beliefs in how it runs its athletics programs.”
Because Catholic institutions compete with public institutions and other private institutions in competitive sports, the groups argued that the rule could still pose a problem for Catholic institutions even if they are exempt.
“The question is more complicated when a religious school that maintains sex-separate teams plays against a school that does not, such as when the schools are in the same athletic conference,” the public comment read. “In such a scenario, the rule should not dictate an outcome nor impose any penalties on a religious school whose beliefs prohibit it from playing against a team that includes a student of the opposite biological sex. Rather, the two schools should be permitted to decide whether to play each other and under what conditions.”
The Department of Education received more than 132,000 comments on the proposal before the public comment period ended on Monday. The rule was controversial from both sides: Many transgender activists said the rule did not go far enough, but many Christian and conservative institutions said it went too far.