Attorneys representing a Christian college in Missouri delivered oral arguments Nov. 17 in federal court, seeking to preserve the school’s longstanding religiously held belief that men and women should be housed separately on campus.
College of the Ozarks, a Christian liberal arts college in southern Missouri, sued the Biden administration in April, claiming a new housing rule would violate the school’s faith-based standards prohibiting males and females from living together in the same dormitories.
Under the rule, which the Biden administration introduced during January 2021, a private school that decides to house only men in male dorms and only women in female dorms could be fined for gender identity discrimination, regardless of their religious beliefs.
In addition, the new rule could force private colleges to allow a transgender person who identifies as a female to live in a female residence hall.
Jerry C. Davis, the college’s president, said in a Nov. 18 interview with CNA that he has no intention of backing off in the fight to preserve the college’s 115-year history of honoring the Biblical view that there are inherent biological differences between men and women.
“We never dreamed our own government would be, in essence, trying to play ‘Dean of students,’ or get involved internally with things like this,” Davis told CNA.
The rule in question was formalized in February in a memo issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in which HUD interprets federal prohibitions of sex discrimination in housing to also protect sexual orientation and gender identity.
“The problem with this directive is that it doesn’t make any room for the college to practice its deeply held religious beliefs,” said Ryan Bangert, senior counsel and vice president of legal strategy for Alliance Defending Freedom, who is representing the college.
“When people say this is discrimination, they are really asking the college to change its religious beliefs and its religious views,” Bangert said. “That is quite frankly discriminatory toward the college.”
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals expedited the college’s appeal in July after a federal court denied the school’s request for a temporary injunction and restraining order.
During the oral arguments of the appeal yesterday, the attorneys presented evidence that a directive of this nature violates the First Amendment, while also violating the procedural rights of the college under the Administrative Procedures Act and the Fair Housing Act because the college was never given an opportunity to voice concerns, nor to ask the agency to consider religious freedom interests.
“It's especially egregious to us that such a change or decision was made without even the courtesy of asking religious institutions what would be the impact on them and their sincerely held religious views,” Davis, the school president, said. “We didn’t have a chance to respond.”
Bangert, the attorney, said that if the government is allowed to make significant policy changes without involving the public, “that sets us on a very dangerous path toward rule by bureaucrats.”
The Attorneys General of Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia have submitted briefs supporting the College of the Ozarks and asking for a reversal of the lower court’s decision not to block the rule.
College of the Ozarks was founded in 1906 by a Presbyterian minister. Davis says the college “admits only students who have financial need, most of whom would not have a chance at an education if it weren’t for us.”
“Why make that job any harder? Why not just leave us alone to do what we have been doing in the public good, in good faith for over a hundred years?” he said.