A group of 33 former students from across the nation has joined together in a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Education. The reason: the group argues that Liberty University, among other religious colleges, discriminates against LGBTQ students. The suit further argues that Liberty and other religious institutions like it violate Title IX of the US Constitution.
“I wanted to do my part in this lawsuit because I wanted Liberty, and all these other schools, to treat their queer students the same way that they treat everyone else,” Lucas Wilson, a gay man, told WSLS News. Wilson is one of the former students joining the Religious Exemption Accountability Project in the lawsuit.
“[These universities] see [being queer] as, without question, a negative and detrimental practice,” he added.
In the same interview, Wilson went on to claim that Liberty University, which he attended from 2008 to 2012, ostensibly “welcomes” LGBTQ students, only to shame and discriminate against them in public. That includes forced community service, fines or forced conversion therapy programs.
That homophobia, according to the lawsuit, doesn’t stop with faculty, either.
“Students at Liberty behave in homophobic and anti-queer ways because they know they can do so with relative impunity,” one of the plaintiffs, McKenzie McCann, a former Liberty student says in the complaint. “Liberty’s culture enables such conduct and makes students feel like Liberty is backing them.”
“What we’re asking is the department be allowed to do its job and investigate discrimination complaints that are filed by LGBT kids instead of just closing them when there’s a religious exemption asserted,” said Paul Southwick, the lawyer representing the Religious Exemption Accountability Project. “The government is actually giving its stamp of approval to the discrimination through its federal funding. That is a violation of the due process rights and equal protection rights of LGBTQ students. The Supreme Court has made clear that the government can no longer treat gay people in a manner that fails to recognize their dignity as human beings.”
President Biden recently signed an executive order declaring that Title IX extends full anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ people in education. That order, however, contains a religious exemption. The Religious Exemption Accountability Project hopes that by suing, the courts will define just how far that exemption goes when it comes to the treatment of queer students.
In addition to Liberty University, the suit names other noted religious universities and colleges including Indiana Wesleyan, Bob Jones, The Moody Bible Institute, Brigham Young, Azusa Pacific and Colorado Christian, among others. It’s important to note that these institutions are not named as defendants in the suit; rather, they are named in hopes of bringing their practices to light within the courts.
“What I hope this lawsuit does is that it starts a conversation and that both sides are willing to listening; that we’re not out here making noise simply to make noise,” Lucas Wilson said.
At the time of this writing, Liberty University has not issued a comment on the lawsuit. Last year, the university became the center of a scandal involving former President Jerry Fallwell, Jr. over his misappropriation of funds and his & his wife Becki’s sexual liaisons with students.