Catholic officials in North Dakota and Nebraska have sought to stop LGBTQ-inclusive policies from being enacted at state-sponsored colleges and universities.
The University of North Dakota is proposing a gender identity policy that would mandate people be treated according to their gender rather than assigned sex when it comes to issues like pronouns and restrooms. It would also consider the intentional misgendering of a person as an act of discrimination. A public comment period closed in late October and the policy is now being considered by administrators.
During the comment period, the state’s Catholic bishops intervened in an effort to stop the policy’s approval. According to an Rob Port, an opinion writer for the Grand Forks Herald:
“‘If you had not wrote about it, we probably would not have learned about the proposed policy,’ Christopher Dodson, general counsel for the North Dakota Catholic Conference, told me. ‘A number of students and interested persons missed the official deadline for comments, which ended Friday.’ . . .
“‘We recognize that everyone should be treated with respect and that the university has a role in facilitating a respectful learning environment,’ Dodson writes. ‘However, this proposal goes beyond setting mere rules for administrative tasks. Indeed, it embraces and demands acceptance of a particular ideology about gender and language that infringes upon free speech and religious rights.'”
In a similar situation in a nearby state, policies on non-discrimination based on gender identity were approved for the Nebraska State College System earlier this month, accompanied by encouragement to use employee’s proper gender and preferred name. Preceding the policies’ passage, the Nebraska Catholic Conference joined with the Nebraska Family Alliance to oppose the measures. In their statement, the groups claimed, “Nebraskans have spoken loudly and clearly that they do not want ideologically driven gender identity policies imposed through our state education systems,” according to the Lincoln Journal Star.
Behind these two efforts by church leaders to stop pro-LGBTQ policies at secular institutions are religious liberty claims. But administrators have said the new policies are needed to comply with federal law, particularly in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bostock decision last year barring discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
The real issues surrounding religious liberty in both of these cases is the attempted undue interference by church authorities in secular affairs. In a pluralistic society, Catholics should certainly have a voice in the public square, but that involvement must be appropriate. Seeking to impose religious belief in state-sponsored education is not appropriate, nor are claims that protections for LGBTQ people impinge on others’ civil liberties.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 27, 2021