A Republican senator has told President Donald Trump that the Department of Education should remove from its website a "shame list" of faith-based colleges that have asked for an exemption to Title IX discrimination law, which was first published last year by the Barack Obama administration.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla, sent a letter to the White House on Thursday telling Trump that his administration needs to do more to protect religious freedom at home and abroad. Lankford, the co-chair of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, included in his letter a list of suggestions for how the administration can best protect First Amendment rights.
One of Lankford's suggestions is that the Trump administration needs to remove the Obama-era online list of colleges who have sought an exemption from Title IX law, which states that no person can be discriminated against on the basis of sex. The law provides an exemption for religious-based schools and institutions who believe that the law forces them to violate their religious convictions.
But after the Obama administration began interpreting Title IX to include protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in 2014, the number of Christian schools seeking exemption from the law dramatically increased. Many Christian schools feared they might be forced to let same-sex married couples sleep in the same dorm room or be forced to comply with the left's push for transgender rights or run the risk of facing government backlash.
Following the increase in schools seeking exemption, LGBT activists and liberal politicians pressured the Obama administration to show "transparency" regarding which schools are seeking exemption.
After Campus Pride produced its own "Shame List of the Absolute Worst Campuses for LGBT Youth," the LGBT community lobbied the Obama administration to do the same.
Last April, the Obama administration complied and produced a list of colleges that requested exemptions to Title IX from 2009 to 2016 on the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights website. The website also includes links to each letter sent by the schools requesting the exemption.
Lankford's letter to Trump states that "the posting has been used to 'shame' institutions of higher learning that are structured according to a faith mission, and provides an inference that these schools are somehow guilty of discrimination."
"While the office's website has been modified, the list of schools remains," Lankford wrote. "There is no need for a separate website listing these schools. Instead, the letters could be in the [Freedom of Information Act] room. If the list of letters remains on a separate website, the additional search features listed in conjunction with the list of letters can be removed."
Trump's secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, attended Calvin College, a conservative Christian school which is not on the list.
As an example why lists like this can be problematic for bible-believing Christian schools, over 80 pro-LGBT groups sent a letter to the National Collegiate Athletic Association last March asking its governing body to divest from campuses who have requested Title XI waivers.
"These requests are directly in conflict with the NCAA's longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion of all people regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity," the letter states. "The Title IX waiver allows campus administrators to deny transgender students admission, usage of public accommodations, and protections against anti-LGBTQ actions from students and faculty — all based on a student's gender identity. The Title IX waivers requesting to discriminate against transgender students create an unsafe environment for all LGBTQ students, both in academics and athletics."
The NCAA has not complied with the letter and no action has been taken by the NCAA toward the schools seeking exemption from Title IX law.
Included in Lankford's other suggestions for how Trump can best protect religious liberty, Lankford called on Trump to provide better "clarification regarding the rules and guidelines for faith-based organizations that wish to partner with the federal government."
Lankford argued that the executive order Trump issued in late March that reportedly revokes and Obama order that banned federal contracts from being given to organizations that do not have employment protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity does not provided the needed clarification.
"It is crucial that faith-based organizations know that they are a welcomed partner by the federal government," Lankford stated.
Among other suggestions, Lankford also urged Trump to quickly nominate an ambassador at-large for international religious freedom. The post has been vacant since the start of his administration in January. When Obama took office, the post was vacant for first 845 days of his presidency.
"The Ambassador at-Large position has been vacant since January 20th, and left unfulfilled, sends a message to the world that religious freedom is not a priority of the United States government," Lankford wrote.