Christian Colleges, Religious Freedoms, and their Conflict with Queer Civil Rights

Two students are filing a lawsuit against Fuller Theological Seminary regarding anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination they faced during their time as students.

Christianity Today reports that the two students had been expelled from the seminary for their same-sex marriages. This action is a violation of Title IX, a federal law that was put in place to protect students at federally funded educational institutions from sex discrimination.

This is yet another case that blurs the lines between religious freedom and civil rights, highlighting the inherent conflict the lies between many faith-based and religious institutions, and the LGBTQ+ community.

Christian universities often have a community agreement that students must sign, agreeing to abstain from certain behaviors that contradict the university’s statement of faith, oftentimes citing the prohibition of “same-sex sexual behavior” or even something as vague as “homosexual behavior.” These terms often go undefined and are often left to the interpretation of university administration. In the case of these two former Fuller students, their marriages were determined to be enough to grant expulsion.

Not Just a Conduct Issue

Considering their conservative doctrines, Christian universities have the task of discerning how best to respond to increasing LGBTQ+ visibility, especially since the legalization of same-sex marriage in the U.S. back in 2015.

Many of these universities would like to view this issue with the same weight as decisions about whether to allow alcohol on campus, but truthfully, these schools’ responses to LGBTQ+ civil rights go much father than that. Christian universities carry significant weight in the Evangelical world and they heavily influence the direction of the religious right.

Not all Christian universities carry the same level of influence as schools like Liberty, Taylor, or Fuller, but they still play important roles in demonstrating to conservative Christian America what will and won’t be acceptable in their communities. Unfortunately, in the face of the LGBTQ+ community’s fight for civil rights and protections, more and more universities are standing against them to protect their universities, dismissing the need for basic rights and protections for queer people.

Just this past year, an amicus brief was filed to the Supreme Court to debate LGBTQ+ employment protections. Christian universities manage to find themselves at the center of this debate as a number of Christian universities signed their support, arguing that LGBTQ+ jobs should not be protected under federal law as a form of sex discrimination.

Discriminatory actions such as what we are seeing from Fuller Theological Seminary are not simply a matter of allowing Christian universities to function under their own religious doctrines- these actions carry weight and signal to conservative Christian America that the education, the jobs, and the overall livelihood of LGBTQ+ people in America are unimportant. Christian universities’ fight to keep protections from queer people only adds fuel to the fire that is the reality of the discrimination that their queer students will face when they leave college to start careers and build families.

Yes, religious freedoms are important- but so are queer civil rights. We are in a time when Christian institutions’ right to discriminate based on sex are coming in direct conflict with the queer community’s fight for basic protections, and both sides of these debates are on the edge of their seats.

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