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Alliance Defending Freedom throws legal aid behind schools such as George Fox University.

PMG FILE PHOTO - A Christian conservative nonprofit is using its vast legal resources and influence to fight an anti-discrimination lawsuit led by LGBTQ students at Christian colleges throughout the country, including George Fox University.A Christian nonprofit is using its legal resources to fight an anti-discrimination lawsuit led by LGBTQ students at Christian colleges throughout the country, including George Fox University.

The Alliance Defending Freedom characterized the Hunter v. Department of Education lawsuit as an attack on religious freedom in a press release April 12.

"This lawsuit wants the federal government to tell Christian schools, 'To continue accepting students who have federal financial aid, all you have to do is to start acting contrary to your own beliefs.' That's neither reasonable nor constitutional," David Cortman, ADF senior counsel and vice president of U.S. litigation, said in the release. "No court should grant a radical request to rewrite federal law and strong-arm religious colleges by stripping their students of much-needed financial aid. For that reason, we are asking the court to let our clients intervene in this lawsuit so that they and their students can defend their freedoms under federal law and the Constitution."

Those leading the Hunter lawsuit — including lead attorney Paul Southwick, a GFU graduate — argue that it seeks to provide long-sought equity for LGBTQ students. Currently, a religious institution can request a Title IX exemption for the right to discriminate against LGBTQ students based on the university's religious views, arguing religious freedom. GFU asked for and received such an exemption in 2014 when a transgender student was denied housing with their identifying gender.

"We are asking the court to declare that the religious exemption to Title IX is unconstitutional as a violation of both the First Amendment provision on establishment of religion as well as the equal protections clause and due process rights guaranteed to every American," Southwick said in early April.

ADF is based in Scottsdale, Arizona, and will be representing a trio of religious schools in its fight against the lawsuit. Attorneys at the organization asked a federal district court to allow the three schools — Corban University, William Jessup University and Phoenix Seminary — to intervene against the lawsuit, which could pave the way for others to file for legal injunctions as well.

From ADF's point of view — one rooted in a religious belief that homosexuality is a sin and that God created man in his image as either male or female — the Hunter lawsuit aims to dismantle the Title IX protections for religious schools, specifically when it comes to financial aid provided to students. Their claim also tied the suit to recent statements by the Biden administration around Title IX, an unclear connection but one that fits into the organization's narrative of religion being under attack.

"Targeting religious schools hurts the students and families who desire to pursue their education in places that share their faith and values," ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker said in the release. "These schools should be allowed to defend their and their students' long-recognized freedoms under federal law and the First Amendment."

"The very existence of Title IX's religious exemption is at stake here, yet none of the current parties are religious educational institutions that benefit from this exemption," ADF's motion to intervene, filed April 9, reads.

The legal document asks the court "to declare the religious exemption unconstitutional and seek a permanent injunction rescinding and prohibiting religious exemptions for institutions that hold beliefs about marriage, sexuality and gender disfavored by some. The court should not assess the religious exemption's constitutionality without hearing from the very institutions the exemption was designed to protect."

The ADF is designated as an anti-LGBTQ hate organization by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based nonprofit with five decades of involvement in civil rights. The organization classified ADF as such because it has supported the criminalization of sex acts between LGBTQ adults, defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people, argued that the LGBTQ community is more likely to commit pedophilia, and claimed that a "homosexual agenda" will destroy Christianity and society.


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