WASHINGTON (BP) – The Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity has called for withdrawal of a Biden administration proposal it says would force schools to discriminate against female athletes to continue to receive federal funding.
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) submitted public comments Monday (May 15) objecting to a Department of Education proposed rule regarding students who identify as a gender other than the biological sex of their birth. The proposal for kindergarten through college would prohibit schools receiving federal funds from implementing wholesale bans on student participation on athletic teams aligned with their gender identity instead of their biological sex.
While the proposed regulation would permit restrictions on some older student-athletes who identify as transgender, it would forbid a “one-size-fits-all” ban on their participation. Such a categorical prohibition, the proposed rule says, would violate Title IX, a 1972 law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that accept federal money.
ERLC President Brent Leatherwood said in his submitted comments, however, the proposed rule actually would violate Title IX’s intention to protect equality in education programs for females. And the department’s explanation of the criteria for prohibiting males who identify as transgender from participating on female teams “renders the exception virtually useless,” he said.
The proposed regulation is another in a series of actions by the Biden administration in its effort to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) rights.
The policy battle over gender identity in athletics is being waged also in legislatures and courts.
The U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill in April that restricts biological males from participating in female sports, although the measure appears to have no chance of passage in the Senate. At least 20 states have enacted similar bans.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued an order in April that upheld a lower-court decision blocking enforcement for the time being of West Virginia’s ban on participation by biological males in girls’ or women’s sports.
Hannah Daniel, the ERLC’s policy manager, told Baptist Press, “Since the passage of Title IX over 50 years ago, women and girls have been afforded new opportunities for advancement in education and athletics.”
The Biden administration’s proposed rule “reverses that advancement, makes competition less fair and safe for female athletes, promotes a radical gender ideology that harms children and creates an unworkable regulatory scheme that hamstrings school administrators,” she said in written remarks.
In his submitted comments, Leatherwood said the proposed regulation’s effect “would significantly undermine the original intent” of Title IX.
“A refusal to account for biological, sex-dependent differences will legally enshrine inequality in sports by changing the very law that sought to achieve equality in the first place,” Leatherwood wrote. “If the proposed change is accepted, the law created to protect women from discrimination and provide them equality would discriminate against them and make them more unequal” than previously.
Under the proposal, elementary students would normally be able to take part on teams related to their gender identity, while limitations on transgender participation by older students – particularly in high school and college – may be permitted so schools can “achieve an important educational objective, such as fairness in competition,” according to the proposal.
The exceptions that would permit schools to implement sex-specific prohibitions for individual older students “are as vague as they are hollow,” Leatherwood wrote.
Schools that attempt to protect females physically and ensure their equality in competition “will undoubtedly face criticism and massive litigation costs for any exception they employ,” he wrote. “It will be untenable for most schools to protect girls.”
Christians believe “two distinct and complementary sexes … were an intentional act of God’s creative will and not an arbitrary assignment that human beings can change,” Leatherwood wrote.
“The proposed rule fundamentally hinders the good and flourishing of our neighbors in expanding beyond the biblical truth of binary sexes and biological realities. … [It] ultimately discounts the human dignity of our fellow citizens.”
Messengers to the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution regarding transgender identity that “affirm[ed] God’s good design that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception.” The resolution “regard[ed] our transgender neighbors as image-bearers of Almighty God and therefore condemn[ed] acts of abuse or bullying committed against them.” It also invited all transgender people to trust in Jesus.
A 2016 resolution on sexuality reaffirmed Southern Baptists’ love for those who identify as transgender.