A federal judge rejected the College of the Ozarks’ request to sidestep a 2021 directive backed by President Joe Biden that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Judge Roseann Ketchmark issued the ruling denying a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction shortly before 6 p.m. Wednesday, following a 2-1/2-hour hearing conducted virtually.
She said an effort by the conservative Christian college to stop the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development from applying the new directive would not protect the college from any liability related to unfair housing allegations.
In mid-April, the college sued Biden, HUD and related federal officials with support from the Alliance Defending Freedom. The college requested a jury trial.
The college and ADF argued the directive forced religious schools to violate their views by opening male or female residence halls — including dorm rooms and restrooms — to members of the opposite sex.
Biden’s executive order, signed Jan. 20, states that “all persons should receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.” Any entity that violates the order faces financial penalties.
The suit filed in the Western District of Missouri states HUD’s directive “requires private religious colleges to place biological males into female dormitories and to assign them as females’ roommates.”
“There is no doubt that this is creating serious consequences,” said Julie Blake, an ADF attorney representing the college.
In the hearing, Blake argued the directive was a “rule change” that was enforceable and the college wanted to address it prior to any complaint. “The college need not wait for an actual prosecution or enforcement action before challenging a law’s constitutionality.”
Blake said the college faces “serious fines and penalties and potential liability” if it does not comply.
The college said it has long assigned dormitories and separated “intimate spaces” such as showers and bathrooms based on “biological sex.”
James Luh, an attorney representing HUD and federal officials, said the memorandum was “not directed at the college and does not specifically address the kinds of issues the college has raised here — showers, or roommates.”
Luh said no complaint has been filed against the college by or with HUD and there was not an immediate threat of one. “The plaintiffs can’t establish either irreparable harm or the likelihood of success necessary to sustain a preliminary injunction.”
Serena Orloff, another attorney for HUD and the federal officials, argued the directive reinforces anti-discrimination policies long held by the agency and the major change is a push to enforce them.
“We recognize the college may have strongly held beliefs,” Orloff said. “Nothing that the government has done … should be taken to suggest a lack of respect for the college’s religious beliefs but at this juncture, this is a purely one-sided dispute.”
In the hearing, Orloff asked the judge to consider another perspective: “a hypothetical student that may someday experience housing discrimination on the basis of sexual identity or sexual orientation.”
She said the directive, or memorandum, states that if such a complaint was leveled, the HUD will investigate, in what is a lengthy process.
“It would be particularly unfair to cut off an avenue of redress for a hypothetical student before he or she had even had the opportunity to make the complaint to HUD and HUD had the ability to investigate,” Orloff said.
Orloff said the college warns the directive will allow a transgender student to enroll and live on campus. “That seems rather unlikely in light of the college’s Code of Conduct.”
According to the suit, the college will discipline employees or students for the following violations of the conduct code, with penalties up to and including expulsion:
Gender expression inconsistent with sex determined at birth;
Sexual relations with a person other than his/her spouse;
Sexual relations with a person of the same sex;
Touching, caressing, and other physical conduct of a sexual nature with a person of the same sex; and
Touching, caressing, and other physical conduct of a sexual nature with a person of the opposite sex that is inappropriate to the time and place in which it occurs.
In the suit, the college explains it was founded in 1906 to provide the “advantages of a Christian education for youth of both sexes, especially for those found worthy, but who are without sufficient means to procure such training” and still follows that mission.
All unmarried students are required to live on campus for their freshman year. They can apply to move off campus, starting sophomore year, if their parents live within 40 miles and they have a financial need, or they are married.
The college’s room and board cost $7,900 a year. Students who work on campus can graduate debt-free.
Each year, faculty must sign a contract agreeing to comply with the college’s drug-free workplace policy, the handbook, and “employee commitments” summarizing faith and practice, biblical references in support of college polices, and the college’s lifestyle and sexuality policy.
In the suit, the college explained it teaches that all people should be treated with dignity, grace and love “whatever their sexual beliefs.”
Source: Springfield News-Leader
MO college asks court to immediately halt Biden order that opens dorms, showers to opposite sex
WHO: Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys
WHAT: Available to media following hearing in The School of the Ozarks d/b/a College of the Ozarks v. Biden
WHEN: Immediately following hearing, which begins at 3:30 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 19
WHERE: Hearing is taking place via video teleconference before the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri; to schedule an interview, contact ADF Director of Media Relations Elizabeth Ray at (202) 440-3767
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing College of the Ozarks will be available for media interviews Wednesday following a hearing in federal district court in a lawsuit the school filed against the Biden administration.
The lawsuit challenges a directive from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that forces religious schools to violate their beliefs by opening their dormitories, including dorm rooms and shared shower spaces, to members of the opposite sex. The directive accomplishes this by requiring entities covered by the Fair Housing Act to not “discriminate” based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The hearing concerns the college’s request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction order that would halt enforcement of the HUD directive while the lawsuit moves forward.
“The government can’t force schools to open girls’ dorm rooms to males or vice-versa,” said ADF Senior Counsel Julie Marie Blake. “President Biden is punishing religious schools, organizations, and churches simply because of their beliefs about marriage and biological sex. Religious schools like the College of the Ozarks are free to follow the religious tradition they represent. That’s why we are asking the court to halt enforcement of this unconstitutional directive while our lawsuit proceeds.”
The administration’s rule change forces religious schools to violate their beliefs by opening up female dorms to biological males and male dorms to biological females, or face fines of up to six figures, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees. HUD’s reinterpretation of “sex” in the Fair Housing Act comes in light of President Biden’s executive order titled, “Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation,” signed in January 2021.
The lawsuit opposes the HUD directive and the executive order requiring it. The order, issued to all federal agencies, requires them to modify their policies on sex discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The lawsuit explains that the HUD directive contradicts the historical judicial interpretation of the Fair Housing Act, which confirms that “sex” means biological sex. The suit also argues that the directive exceeds the administration’s authority and violates the constitutionally protected freedom of College of the Ozarks and similar religious institutions to operate consistently with their religious beliefs.
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.
Julie Marie Blake serves as senior counsel for regulatory litigation at Alliance Defending Freedom. Over the last decade, she has been on the front lines of high-profile, precedent-setting cases challenging federal overreach in courts across the country. Blake served as deputy solicitor general for the state of Missouri from 2017 to 2020 and as assistant solicitor general for the state of West Virginia from 2013 to 2017. In these roles, she argued 26 federal and state appeals, including before the en banc U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. Before entering government service in 2013, Blake was a litigation associate at Baker Botts L.L.P., where she served as volunteer amicus counsel in several ADF cases, including Town of Greece v. Galloway. Following law school, she served as a law clerk for Judge Paul J. Kelly, Jr. on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. She received her J.D. magna cum laude from Notre Dame Law School in 2009. She received her B.A. in Politics and Theology & Religious Studies phi beta kappa from the Catholic University of America in 2006. She is a 2007 Blackstone Fellow. Blake is admitted to practice in multiple states, the Supreme Court, and in many federal district and appellate courts.