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Biden administration changes course on halting lunch funding for religious schools

The Biden administration has reversed course on its plan to use its interpretation of Title IX to stop funding lunch programs for schools that teach biblical standards on sexuality and marriage. The policy also requires schools to allow biological boys to compete on girls’ sports teams.

The USDA said Title IX includes some exceptions, including “one permitting an institution to be exempt on religious grounds if there is a conflict between Title IX and a school’s governing religious tenets.”

The about-face comes after considerable criticism from faith leaders and schools and a court ruling temporarily halting the policy. After a lawsuit was filed, it was expected the courts would find the Biden policy unconstitutional.

At issue is the Biden administration’s interpterion of Title IX, a 1972 law that prohibits discrimination in education facilities on the basis of sex. The Biden administration interprets Title IX as also prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In the lawsuit, the attorneys general argue the USDA’s Guidance is unlawful because:
  • It was issued without providing the State and other stakeholders the opportunity for input as required by the Administrative Procedures Act (APA).
  • The USDA premised its Guidance on an obvious misreading and misapplication of the Supreme Court’s holding in Bostock v. Clayton County. 
  • The Guidance imposes new and unlawful regulatory measures on state agencies and operators receiving federal financial assistance from the USDA. This will inevitably result in regulatory chaos that threatens essential nutritional services to some of the most vulnerable citizens.
The National School Lunch Program services nearly 30 million school children each day, many who rely on it for breakfast, lunch, or both. Approximately 100,000 public and non-profit private schools and residential childcare institutions receive federal funding to provide subsidized free or reduced-price meals for qualifying children.

Grant Park Christian Academy in Tampa had sued the Biden administration in federal court, asserting the new rule violates federal law and the school’s religious liberty rights under the U.S. Constitution.

The office of Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried had told the school it must comply with the Biden administration’s interpretation of Title IX to receive funding through the USDA’s National School Lunch Program. Fried and the USDA agreed earlier this month to exempt Grant Park. The new guidance will exempt all religious schools that hold to traditional beliefs.

The school’s ministry statement says the word “marriage” has only “one legitimate meaning, and that is marriage sanctioned by God, which joins one man and one woman.” Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the school. called the administration’s interpretation a radical expansion of Title IX.

“On behalf of the students at Grant Park Christian Academy in Tampa, we filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration 16 days ago, and in that time, we are pleased to see the administration grant not only that Christian school’s request but rightly honor the religious beliefs of every other religious school in the country by allowing them to continue operating according to the core tenets of their faith,” legal counsel Erica Steinmiller-Perdomo said “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.”

The lawsuit was brought by Missouri and joining it are Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia.

–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice