The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has granted a request to expedite a case filed on behalf of the College of the Ozarks.
It comes after a lower court dismissed the college’s challenge from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
College of the Ozarks says that decision forces religious schools to violate their beliefs by opening their dorms, including dorm rooms and shared showers, to members of the opposite sex.
Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing College of the Ozarks filed their opening brief Thursday at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit in a lawsuit that seeks to halt a Biden administration directive that would force the private Christian college to open up its sex-specific dorms and showers to members of the opposite sex. The 8th Circuit granted ADF’s request to expedite the case after a lower court’s dismissal.
The lawsuit challenges a directive from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that forces religious schools to violate their beliefs by opening their dormitories, including dorm rooms and shared shower spaces, to members of the opposite sex. The directive requires entities covered by the Fair Housing Act to not “discriminate” based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The appeal concerns the college’s request for a preliminary injunction order that would halt enforcement of the HUD directive while the lawsuit moves forward.
“Young women should not be forced to share private spaces—including showers and dorm rooms—with men, and a religious institution should not be forced to betray its religious beliefs,” said College of the Ozark President Jerry C. Davis. “It’s our college today. Tomorrow, it could be someone else’s college, school, church, or organization. The constitution protects our freedom by separating power and limiting government. When the government overreaches, College of the Ozarks will defend freedom, especially religious freedom.”
The administration’s rule change forces religious schools to violate their beliefs by opening up female dorms to biological males and male dorms to biological females, or face fines of up to six figures, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees. HUD’s reinterpretation of “sex” in the Fair Housing Act comes in light of President Joe Biden’s executive order titled, “Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation,” signed in January.
The lawsuit, College of the Ozarks v. Biden, opposes the HUD directive and the executive order requiring it. The order, issued to all federal agencies, requires them to modify their policies on sex discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity. The lawsuit explains that the HUD directive contradicts the historical judicial interpretation of the Fair Housing Act, which confirms that “sex” means biological sex. The suit 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.
“Private, faith-based colleges have the constitutionally protected freedom to separate males and females in dorm rooms, showers, and lockers, and until recently, that commonsense policy has been widely accepted and respected,” said ADF Senior Counsel Julie Marie Blake. “President Biden’s directive is targeting religious schools, organizations, and churches simply because of their beliefs about marriage and biological sex. We are pleased the 8th Circuit granted our request to expedite this case, which has important ramifications for College of the Ozarks and others who seek to freely operate according to their faith tradition and beliefs.”
“The government’s Directive jeopardizes the College’s speech, its biologically separate dorms, and the students who live there—all without public notice and comment, or any consideration of religious exemptions, statutory authority, or free speech…,” the opening brief explains. “The College faces a credible threat of enforcement because the Directive repeatedly mandates ‘full enforcement,’ laments that full enforcement of its new legal standard has never yet occurred, and says nothing about religious or free-speech protections. This threat forces the College to choose between harming its students and violating its religious beliefs, or risking massive fines, investigatory burdens, lawsuits, and criminal penalties.”