A federal judge rejected a Missouri Christian university’s plea for temporary protection against the Biden administration’s Fair Housing Act, which, the school said, requires religious schools to open womens' dorm rooms and showers to male students.
District Judge Roseann Ketchmark on Wednesday denied the College of the Ozarks’ motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing Act, Springfield News-Leader reported.
Ketchmark said an effort by the college to stop HUD from applying the new federal directive wouldn't protect the college from any liability related to unfair housing allegations, the newspaper added.
James Luh, an attorney representing HUD, argued that 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 there was no immediate threat to the college and that no legal complaint had been filed against it. “The plaintiffs can’t establish either irreparable harm or the likelihood of success necessary to sustain a preliminary injunction,” he was quoted as saying.
Serena Orloff, another attorney for HUD, argued, “We recognize the college may have strongly held beliefs … 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.”
Representing the college is the legal nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom. The group’s senior counsel Ryan Bangert told KOLR, “The Fair Housing Act has long prohibited discrimination on several grounds, including sex. But by redefining sex, the Biden administration is twisting the fair housing act to harm young women directly.”
On his first day in office on Jan 20, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to prevent “discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.” In February, HUD announced it would “administer and enforce the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
The federal order instructs “organizations and agencies that receive grants through HUD’s Fair Housing Initiative Program (FHIP), in carrying out activities under these grant agreements, must interpret sex discrimination under the Fair Housing Act to include discrimination because of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
In April, the liberal arts college filed a lawsuit saying HUD forces any entities that receive federal taxpayer dollars covered by the Fair Housing Act to place transgender-identified male college students in girls' dormitories.
The lawsuit argued that the rule forces religious schools to violate their religious beliefs and said the order was issued “without notice or the opportunity for public comment.” It further contended that the policy was issued without considering alternative policies that “respect the interests of private religious colleges.”
College of the Ozarks' President Jerry C. Davis said he will appeal the federal district court’s rejection of the motion.
“While we are disappointed in [the] ruling, we expect to appeal so that schools are not forced to open women’s dorm rooms to males and violate their religious beliefs,” he said, according to Branson News. “For more than 100 years, College of the Ozarks has provided a distinctly Christian education to students with financial need. We will not abandon our mission. The fight to protect our religious freedom has just begun.”
Davis said the HUD policy forces his college to “decide between defending its religious liberty from government overreach or violating our core beliefs.”
“The government’s threats include harmful fines that could easily amount to six figures,” he said. “Fair Housing Act penalties can even land people in jail. College of the Ozarks will not stand on the sidelines while our right to religious freedom is attacked.”
Davis added: “It’s our college today. Tomorrow it will be someone else’s college, it could be another school, it might be your church or charitable organization. The constitution of the United States protects our freedom by separating power and limiting government. When the government overreaches, the College of the Ozarks will defend freedom, especially religious freedom.”
ADF argues that the directive violates both women's sex-based rights and the school's religious liberties.
“The government cannot and should not force schools to open girls’ dorms to males based on its politically motivated and inappropriate redefinition of ‘sex,’” ADF senior counsel Julie Marie Blake said in an earlier statement.
“Women shouldn’t be forced to share private spaces — including showers and dorm rooms — with males, and religious schools shouldn’t be punished simply because of their beliefs about marriage and biological sex. Government overreach by the Biden administration continues to victimize women, girls, and people of faith by gutting their legal protections, and it must be stopped.”