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Democratic Senators Oppose Religious Freedom Rule

February 20, 2020
 
 

The top Democrat on the Senate’s education committee and 15 other Democratic senators oppose U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s religious freedom rule, saying it would allow more religious institutions to discriminate against gay people and women.

In a letter to DeVos on Wednesday, Senator Patty Murray of Washington and the other senators said the proposed rule would expand exemptions to Title IX of the Higher Education Act “that could provide federally-funded faith-based institutions and student organizations a license to discriminate against students, employees and beneficiaries who are LGBTQIA+, as well as women.”

Currently, exemptions are limited to educational institutions “controlled by a religious organization.” But the proposal would expand the exemptions, including to an institution that says it “‘subscribes to specific moral beliefs or practices,’” the letter said. “Enforcing the proposed factors as written would allow virtually any college or university to claim an exemption.” Individuals could be fired or not provided resources on the basis of their sex, including sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, all based on an organization’s self-defined religious tenets, the letter said.

The senators also raised the same concerns brought up by the American Council on Education -- that institutions could not bar discrimination by student groups without facing the loss of federal funding. In addition, the senators wrote U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia to protest that agency's proposed rule to expand religious exemptions. The proposed rule would allow faith-based entities to make employment decisions on the “basis of [their employees’] acceptance to or adherence to the religious requirements or standards of the organization, but not on the basis of any other protected characteristic,” that letter said.

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