Catholic Groups, Including USCCB, Seek Halt to Federal Protections for Transgender Athletes

Three Catholic organizations, including the U.S. bishops’ conference, have asked the U.S. Department of Education to halt efforts to protect transgender athletes in schools.

The joint letter from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), National Catholic Education Association, and The Catholic University of America is a public comment as the Biden administration seeks to make Title IX funding contingent on schools’ support for transgender athletes.

The new rule, if approved, would prohibit generalized policies forcing students to participate in sports according to their assigned sex, rather than their gender. Exceptions could be allowed if a school or university can prove forcing an athlete to participate according to their assigned sex is necessary for reasons of safety or competitiveness.

The Catholic groups’ letter, which does acknowledge the church opposes “unjust discrimination,” nonetheless argues:

“The NPRM [Notice of Proposed Rulemaking] imposes an inaccurate view of human nature and sexuality. It is internally inconsistent, unworkably vague, and fails to consider a significant aspect of the issue presented – the intersection of the NPRM’s requirements with the Title IX religious exemption.”

After a lengthy section about the institutional church’s present LGBTQ-negative teachings on gender, the letter is mainly concerned with whether religious schools or universities would see their federal funding impacted should they choose to discriminate against transgender athletes. The letter claims the proposed rule is not sufficiently clear about how religious exemptions would work, writing:

“Given the many religious schools subject to Title IX and the prevalence of relevant religious beliefs, the Department should clarify how the proposed rule applies to schools with religious beliefs contrary to the proposed rule’s requirements. The application of the religious exemption to a religious school’s internal policies on sports participation should be straightforward: The school should be free to adhere to its religious beliefs in how it runs its athletics programs.”

A further concern is that religious schools may be impacted if other schools choose to opt out of competition with religious schools that discriminate against transgender athletes.

Leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have worked for several years to stop non-discrimination policies benefiting transgender athletes at educational institutions.

Earlier this year, Bishops Robert Barron of Winona-Rochester, as chair of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, and Thomas Daly of Spokane, as chair of the Committee on Catholic Education, wrote to Republican legislators in support of their bill to prohibit trans women and girls from participating on female sports teams. This federal bill would add to similar laws passed in at least eighteen states. In 2020, two USCCB leaders, Bishops David Konderla of Tulsa and Michael Barber of Oakland, endorsed similar legislation that would have ended federal Title IX education funding if trans women and girls were allowed on female sports teams. 

In 2022, as USCCB representatives, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, and Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane asked the Department of Education to not expand other Title IX protections to include LGBTQ+ students and survivors of sexual assault.

The Biden administration’s proposed rule on transgender athletes to which the Catholic groups object also has drawn criticism from LGBTQ+ advocates for possibly allowing individual cases of discrimination to proceed through the proposed exception process.

It remains unfortunate that though there are real issues concerning students’ safety, such as endemic gun violence and mental health issues intensified by the pandemic, Catholic leaders persist in their efforts to stop non-discrimination protections aimed at improving the flourishing of LGBTQ+ students.

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, June 11, 2023

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