by Tess Joseph
In 2015, Elizabeth Hunter started attending Bob Jones University, a Christian liberal arts university located in Greenville, South Carolina. She enrolled at BJU because she believed that her parents, who are Christian fundamentalists, would only permit her to attend a religious institution. The summer before her senior year, Hunter posted a tweet to her then fewer than 700 followers: “Happy pride to all my friends in and out of the closet. You’re incredibly brave, and I love you.”
Ariel Gilreath reports that Hunter’s tweet prompted BJU to “interrogate her for several hours,” search her social media, and put her on disciplinary probation “for expressing support for LGBTQ people.” In addition, BJU removed Hunter from her on-campus job and required her to attend counseling and pay a fine.
In response to BJU’s abhorrent and discriminatory actions, Hunter became the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education. As Zachariah Sippy and Marie-Rose Sheinerman explain, the suit posits that “Title IX—the 1972 law banning sex-based discrimination at schools that receive federal funds—should have protected [Hunter].” Specifically, it claims that the section of Title IX that allows religious exemptions from non-discrimination on the basis of sex and gender is unconstitutional.
While the suit is complex, its argument can be put in simple terms: religious beliefs are not and should not be weaponized as a “free pass” to discriminate against people, including the LGBTQ+ community. The federal government, which allocates billions in funding to religious colleges like BJU, must not, in so doing, fund discrimination.
We have a human right to sexual freedom, and we also have a human right to education. We at Woodhull Freedom Foundation recognize that all students, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation, deserve an education that respects their identity and their privacy. We wholeheartedly support Hunter and the plaintiffs joining her in the class-action suit, and we hope that the court’s decision upholds our human rights.
Photo credit: Kevin Truong