Two Idaho Universities Have Exemptions From Federal Law Against Discrimination

May 4, 2016

Two Idaho Universities have exemptions from a federal law that bans discrimination against transgender students.

The U.S. Department of Education Friday made public for the first time a database of colleges that have applied for religious exemptions from Title IX requirements. Title IX is known for banning gender-based discrimination. But applications for exemptions soared after the ed department said in 2014 it also protected rights of transgender students. 

The new database shows that Nampa’s Northwest Nazarene University asked for and received an exemption in 2014. But the list initially left out a more recent exemption. In March, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affiliated BYU Idaho received an exemption. The school did not request it until a student complaint prompted a federal investigation. BYU Idaho’s exemption was added to the database this week.

BYU Idaho declined to comment beyond a brief written statement.

“The U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights recently recognized Brigham Young University-Idaho’s religious exemptions. BYU-Idaho joins more than 180 other private, religiously-affiliated educational institutions that have received similar exemptions. The exemptions allow the university to legally uphold its longstanding rights as a religious university.” – BYU Idaho

Prior to the Education Department publishing its database, the advocacy group Campus Pride has had its own list of colleges with religious exemptions to Title IX. It’s called the Shame List.

"No student should fear for their safety in higher education -- and no college should be allowed to openly discriminate against youth using religion-based bigotry,” Campus Pride executive director Shane Windmeyer writes in a press release about BYU Idaho. “Tax payer dollars are being used to sanction discrimination toward LGBTQ youth.  This is harmful to these young people. It is shameful and wrong."

Both BYU Idaho and NNU do receive federal funds, primarily for student financial aid, but for other purposes as well. For example NNU received a half-million-dollar research grant in 2015. According to a federal website NNU received $1.4 million from the federal government in fiscal year 2016. The three BYU campuses in Idaho, Utah and Hawaii received $27.3 million.

The database of exemptions goes back decades, long before Title IX protections were extended to transgender students. Older records show that in the 1980s Boise Bible College and Ricks College, now BYU Idaho, got exemptions based on their beliefs about women’s roles. Rick’s asked for another in the 90s allowing it to weight its admissions in order to maintain a roughly even balance of male and female students. The Education Department responded that it did not need an exemption in order to do that. 

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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