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Religious schools will continue to receive federal meal funding even if they do not adhere to new Title IX requirements, according to USDA guidance published Friday.
USDA in May said it would expand its definition of sex-based discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity, and schools would have to adjust their nondiscrimination policies to receive funding from the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), including for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
The Biden administration granted a religious exemption to a private Christian school in Florida last week following a lawsuit.
Religious schools will not be required to follow new Title IX regulations in order to receive federal meal funding, the Agriculture Department (USDA) said in new guidance.
USDA in May announced it would be broadening its definition of sex-based discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity, and said schools and other qualifying organizations would need to update their nondiscrimination policies accordingly to receive funding from the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), including for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
The announcement set off a firestorm of protest from religious institutions who said the new mandate infringes on their rights to freedom of speech and religion, and accused the Biden administration of holding school lunches hostage to further its agenda.
But in a document dated Aug. 12, USDA clarified that it does not require religious schools to submit written requests for a Title IX exemption in order to claim one.
There are several exceptions to Title IX – the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination – the department said, including one permitting an institution to be exempt “if there is a conflict between Title IX and a school’s governing religious tenets.”
Earlier this month, the Biden administration said it would grant such an exemption to Grant Park Christian Academy in Tampa, Fla., a private school of 56 pre-K through eighth-grade students from low-income families.
Attorneys for the school last month sued the administration, along with Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, arguing that a new federal mandate expanding the definition of sex to include sexual orientation and gender identity would hinder its ability to execute its educational mission of helping students develop “lifelong Christian character traits.”
The federal mandate has been the subject of other complaints and legal challenges since it was announced in May. A group of 22 attorneys general in May filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration over the new rule, which they argued is unlawful and unconstitutional, in part because it is “based on a misapplication of U.S. Supreme Court precedents.”
“We all know the Biden administration is dead-set on imposing an extreme left-wing agenda on Americans nationwide,” Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita (R), who is leading the lawsuit, said last month. “But they’ve reached a new level of shamelessness with this ploy of holding up food assistance for low-income kids unless schools do the Left’s bidding.”
In a statement on Friday, Erica Steinmiller-Perdomo, legal counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which had been representing Grant Park Christian Academy, said the administration was “rightly honoring” the beliefs of other religious schools across the nation.
“While it shouldn’t have taken a federal lawsuit, at least now, all religious schools like Grant Park Christian Academy who rely on the USDA’s funding to serve nutritious meals to kids in need can continue this vital service in their communities,” she said.
Changing America has contacted USDA for comment.