Legislation would require universities to apply for a waiver to claim religious exemption from civil rights law, Department of Education and universities to prominently place exemption on website

June 27, 2019- Washington, D.C. – Corresponding with Pride Month, today, Vice Chair of the House Democratic Caucus Congresswoman Katherine Clark (MA-5) and Congressmembers Chris Pappas (NH-1) and Sharice Davids (KS-3) introduced the Exposing Discrimination in Higher Education Act of 2019, legislation that will require universities that receive federal funds to apply for a waiver from the Department of Education before allowing them to claim religious exemption from Title IX protections for students. The bill also requires the Department of Education and the exempted higher education institutions to prominently display the waiver on their websites in order to inform students of their beliefs before arriving on campus.  

“This bill will provide students and parents the information they need when selecting a university that aligns with their identity and values,” said Congresswoman Clark. “All students deserve equal access to opportunity on campus and without transparency, students are arriving on campus only to learn that their school has policies in place impeding their success and infringing on their civil rights.”

Beginning in 2013, several higher education institutions across the U.S. applied for religious exemptions with the Department of Education that would allow them to discriminate against LGBTQ students on campus. These exemptions allow students to be removed from extracurricular organizations, leadership posts, sports teams, and even be expelled simply for being members of the LGBTQ community. Then, in November 2018, the Department of Education proposed a rule that no longer requires institutions to apply for waivers to invoke a religious exemption. The School Equality Act reverses this proposed rule by reinstating the additional step of requiring schools to seek a waiver before enabling them to step over civil rights laws.

“It is appalling that schools receiving federal funds are allowed to actively discriminate against LGBTQ students who have the courage to live openly and proudly,” said Congressman Pappas, Co-Chair of the Equality Caucus. “Reinstating these requirements will shed light on schools seeking to discriminate against students solely on the basis of gender orientation or sexual identity by requiring them to publicly disclose when they receive waivers. All students deserve to know if their schools are working to build an inclusive and safe environment for them to learn and grow.”

“Students pursuing higher education deserve to know whether the university they are considering attending allows discrimination of LGBTQ students before they arrive on campus,” said Congresswoman Davids, Co-Chair of the Equality Caucus. “This legislation will help ensure transparency in federally-funded universities so that students have all the information necessary to select a university that is best suited for them and sets them up for success.”

“This important legislation will ensure that prospective parents and students have greater transparency, and no student unknowingly enrolls in an institution that intends to discriminate against them. No student should face discrimination on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation. We are grateful to Congresswoman Clark and Congressman Pappas for their leadership on this important issue and introducing legislation that would ensure this transparency is required by law."

“Students deserve to learn, free from sex discrimination,” said Emily Martin, Vice President for Education and Workplace Justice at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). “This bill ensures that women and girls, pregnant and parenting students, and LGBTQ students can learn with safety and dignity by unveiling the schools that won’t protect them. We applaud Representative Clark for introducing this legislation that will ensure that schools claiming a religious right to discriminate give notice to students, parents, and communities.”

The problem was first brought to Rep. Clark’s attention in 2013 by the Human Rights Campaign’s landmark report, “Hidden Discrimination: Title IX Religious Exemptions Putting LGBT Students at Risk”. In this report, the Human Rights Campaign called upon Congress and the Administration to act upon this issue. In the same year, Clark filed legislation to require the Department of Education to publicize any school exemptions and the Exposing Discrimination in Higher Education Act expands on the original bill by requiring schools to seek a waiver.