Private religious schools won’t be required to comply with the Biden administration’s gender mandate to qualify for student-lunch funding under a newly released exemption.
The Agriculture Department issued a fact sheet Friday stating that all religious schools will be automatically exempted from its May 5 guidance linking the National School Lunch Program to the administration’s gender-identity requirements on hiring, restrooms, sports and dress codes.
“Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (‘Title IX’) is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination by educational institutions receiving financial assistance from the federal government, including USDA,” said the USDA statement.
“Although this prohibition applies to a wide array of public and private schools at the K-12 and the college/university level, the law includes some exceptions, including one permitting an institution to be exempt on religious grounds if there is a conflict between Title IX and a school’s governing religious tenets,” the fact sheet said.
The clarification came after the Alliance Defending Freedom sued the Biden administration last month on behalf of the Grant Park Christian Academy in Tampa, Florida, alleging that the USDA guidance required the school to “violate its religious beliefs or stop providing lunches to children.”
The USDA granted an exemption last week to Grant Park Christian Academy for its 56 low-income students qualifying for free meals under the federal program, but the Friday statement extends the exception to religious schools nationwide.
ADF legal counsel Erica Steinmiller-Perdomo said “we are pleased to see the administration grant not only that Christian school’s request, but rightly honor the religious beliefs of every other religious school in the country.”
“While it shouldn’t have taken a federal lawsuit, at least now, all religious schools like Grant Park Christian Academy who rely on the USDA’s funding to continue serving nutritious meals to kids in need can continue this vital service in their communities,” she said in a statement.
All charter and public schools are still subject to the USDA guidance, which stems from the administration’s effort to extend Title IX’s ban on sex discrimination to encompass sexual orientation and gender identity.
The department’s fact sheet also said that “USDA regulations do not require a religious educational institution to submit a written request for a Title IX exemption in order to claim that exemption.”
Grant Park’s religious beliefs on marriage, family and the nature of the human person “preclude it from complying with this federal mandate to substitute gender identity for biological sex in any aspect of its activities, especially when it comes to males sharing restrooms with females,” said the alliance.
All of the school’s 56 students come from families whose income falls below the federal poverty line and attend the private religious school on scholarships. The fall semester began Wednesday.
— Mark A. Kellner contributed to this report.