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DOJ says it can 'vigorously' defend exemption to anti-LGBT discrimination laws for religious schools

The Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a court filing this week it can “vigorously” defend an exemption to anti-LGBT discrimination laws for religious schools amid a lawsuit over funding for such institutions.

The filing Tuesday noted that the DOJ's "ultimate objective is to defend the statutory exemption and its current application" by the Department of Education (DOE), which is being sued by 40 LGBT students.

The students, who attend conservative religious schools, are suing the department for providing funding to colleges and universities that they say have discriminatory policies.

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The schools in the lawsuit — Hunter v. Department of Education — argue that they have the First Amendment right to promote their own religious beliefs on sexuality and gender.

The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU), which counts many of the schools named in the lawsuit as members, said in May that they could not trust the Biden administration to fully defend them and pushed to get involved in the case, The Washington Post noted

However, the Justice Department — which is charged with upholding federal law — opposed such a move, saying in its filing Tuesday that it shares the same "ultimate objective" as the schools in the case "to uphold the Religious Exemption as it is currently applied."

The pro-LGBT Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP), which submitted the lawsuit in March on behalf of the dozens of current and former students, blasted the DOJ's latest filing.

"We are disappointed that the Biden Administration has chosen to align itself with anti-LGBTQ extremist groups like Alliance Defending Freedom. The administration did not need to defend this unconstitutional religious exemption. My clients feel betrayed by an administration that promised to protect them," Paul Southwick, REAP's director, told The Hill.

The Biden administration has widely been an advocate for LGBT rights and has pushed for passage of the Equality Act, which would expand protections in education, employment, housing and more to LGBT people. 

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CCCU president Shirley Hoogstra told The Post on Tuesday that she was relieved by the DOJ saying it wants to "defend religious exemptions."

"We welcome the Biden administration's commitment to the Title IX religious exemption, but we do believe that the Christian colleges and universities whose rights are at stake should have a representative at the table, and in the courtroom, for these important conversations," Hoogstra added in a statement to The Hill on Wednesday.

The Hill has reached out to the DOJ and DOE for comment.

Updated: 2:12 p.m.