Small Christian college takes on Biden administration in David vs. Goliath battle with far-reaching implications
Students walk along Christian Court on the campus of College of the Ozarks in Missouri.
By Roger Alford
DULUTH, Ga. – Georgia Baptist leaders are keeping a close eye on a federal lawsuit in Missouri involving a Biden administration directive that would force a small Christian college to open its dorm rooms, even showers, to members of the opposite sex.
The College of the Ozarks filed suit last month, claiming President Joe Biden’s executive order and the resulting directive from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development violates its sincerely held religious beliefs.
“This is precisely the concern we have had all along,” said Mike Griffin, head of public affairs for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. “The federal government cannot and should not force religious institutions to go against their deeply held religious beliefs.”
Last week, a federal judge denied the College of the Ozarks’ motion for an injunction and temporary restraining order that would have provided protection until the lawsuit is resolved.
“This is just the first of many laws and polices coming down against Christian institutions, because they believe and practice what the Bible teaches regarding human sexuality,” Griffin said. “These convictions have nothing to do with discrimination toward anyone’s biological sex or gender identification. It is purely upholding biblical standards of morality and recognizing that God, not government, is to be Lord of the conscience.”
The Biden administration directive applies to all institutions, whether they receive federal funding or not. That’s why it should be of particular concern to every Christian college or university across the country, said Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Julie Marie Blake.
“We expect to appeal so that schools are not forced to open women’s dorm rooms to males and violate their religious beliefs,” said College President Jerry C. Davis in a press release. “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.”
Blake and other attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom are representing the college.
“The government cannot and should not force schools to open girls’ dorms to males based on its politically motivated and inappropriate redefinition of ‘sex,’” she said. “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.”
College of the Ozarks holds to the Christian belief that biological sex is not changeable, and it operates its dorms accordingly. In the press release, the college cites sincerely held religious beliefs as the basis for all its policies, including dormitory policies that prohibit male students from living in female residence halls, and vice versa.
Biden’s executive order requires all institutions that fall under the Fair Housing Act to modify their policies on sex discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
In the lawsuit, the College of the Ozarks contends the HUD directive contradicts the historical judicial interpretation of the word “sex” to mean biological sex. The lawsuit 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.
“The Biden administration’s policy forces College of the Ozarks to decide between defending its religious liberty from government overreach or violating our core beliefs,” Davis said. “The government’s threats include harmful fines that could easily amount to six figures. 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. That is why we filed a lawsuit with Alliance Defending Freedom to protect our female students and the Christian education we provide.”