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landmark lawSuit challenGES discriMInatiOn agaiNst lgbtq students at religious coLleges


Elizabeth Hunter, et al. v. U.S. Department of Education 

Religious exemptions to civil rights statutes come at a price. The price is paid by the young and vulnerable who find themselves at the mercy of religiously affiliated, taxpayer-funded social service and educational institutions that often turn them away or force them into the closet. This historic lawsuit asserts the constitutional and basic human rights of LGBTQ+ students, seeking to end the sexual, physical and psychological abuses perpetrated under the religious exemption to Title IX at thousands of federally-funded schools, colleges and universities across America.

The Constitution guarantees equal rights for all Americans, holding space for religious belief and practice, while ensuring that religion does not serve as a government-funded vehicle to harm racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, religious or other minorities. Government action that ignores this central principal, including the religious exemption to Title IX, is unconstitutional and must be remedied immediately. 


April 2023

The federal government opens five additional civil rights investigations in response to complaints filed by plaintiffs Darren McDonald against Westmont College and Veronica Bonifacio Penales, Jake Picker, Justin Tidwell-Davis and an additional former student against Baylor University. 

March 10, 2023

The plaintiffs file their notice of appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, continuing their legal fight for safety and equality at taxpayer-funded, religious schools and colleges. 

January 12, 2023

After months of waiting, the judge issues an opinion and order in the case. The judge determines that the plaintiffs have standing to pursue their Equal Protection claim against the government defendants and that the government defendants are responsible, at least in part, for the harms the plaintiffs suffered. However, the judge dismisses the plaintiffs’ complaint and denies plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction on religious liberty and other grounds.  

December 2022

Congress passes the Respect for Marriage Act and the intervenor-defendants ask the court to dismiss plaintiffs’ case because of language in the Act that says “Diverse beliefs about the role of gender in marriage are held by reasonable and sincere people based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises. Therefore, Congress affirms that such people and their diverse beliefs are due proper respect.”

November 2022

The judge holds a status conference with the attorneys for all parties, lifts the litigation stay that had been in place in the case, and orders the parties to confer about the case proceeding in 2023.

July 2022

Plaintiffs file a supplemental brief discussing the status of their Title IX complaints, including those that have been opened for investigation and those that have been dismissed because of the religious exemption to Title IX.

June 2022

The U.S. Supreme Court issues rulings in two religious liberty cases: Carson v. Makin (state funding to private religious schools) and Kennedy v. Bremerton (school prayer). The intervenors ask the Court to consider these cases and rule against Plaintiffs.

April & May 2022

The federal government opens five additional civil rights investigations into complaints filed by plaintiffs Journey Mueller against Colorado Christian University, Jonathan Jones against Azusa Pacific University, Cameron Martinez against La Sierra University, Lucas Wilson against Liberty University, Jamie Lord against Regent University.

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