The Southern Baptist Convention’s top public policy spokesman criticized an Obama administration letter telling public schools to let transgender students use the bathrooms of their choice as an attempt “to target children’s bathrooms for the sake of transgender ideology.”
Russell Moore, president of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said in a blog May 13 that Friday’s joint letter from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice treats children like “pawns of the state” in order to teach a lesson that is ultimately not secular but theological.
The letter advises school districts on how to apply Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to transgender students. Title IX protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.
The White House interprets Title IX “to require that when a student or the student’s parent or guardian, as appropriate, notifies the school administration that the student will assert a gender identity that differs from previous representations or records, the school will begin treating the student consistent with the student’s gender identity,” according to the letter to public educators.
When it comes to providing separate facilities on the basis of sex, such as restrooms and locker rooms, the federal government says schools cannot require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so.
The missive is labeled “significant guidance,” because it lacks the power of law but provides information and examples of how the federal government evaluates whether Title IX recipients “are complying with their legal obligations.”
It comes as a number of state legislatures are considering so-called bathroom bills requiring students – transgender or otherwise – to use the bathroom assigned to their biological sex at birth. Supporters of those measures say allowing access to public restrooms based on perceived identity instead of physical characteristics raises concerns about privacy and safety.
Moore commented May 13 that what’s at stake is “much bigger than the symbol of the bathrooms.”
“The Department of Education’s actions here mean that ‘gender’ itself in terms of admission for all colleges accepting federal funds is ultimately a matter of identification, not biological sex,” Moore said. “The state here wishes to use its coercive power not simply to stop mistreatment of people but to rescript the most basic human intuitions about humanity as male and female.”
“How, after all, does one win a culture war against one of the most basic facts of science and life: that there are two sexes?” Moore asked. “One does so by withholding the funds and recognition necessary to operate in public space, unless institutions get in line. Children, then, become pawns of the state for the state to teach what is ultimately a theological lesson, not a scientific one.”
The Obama administration began applying Title IX protection to transgender students two years ago as a safeguard against physical or sexual violence. A 2013 survey by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network found transgender students significantly more likely than other students to experience a hostile school climate. Nearly two thirds of transgender students reported avoiding gender-segregated spaces, such as bathrooms, because they felt unsafe.
“It is too easy to lose sight of the actual students in the eye of the current political storm,” GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said in a press release welcoming the new guidelines.
”This guidance serves to re-center their rights and the need to support them in overcoming the severe challenges they can face in the school environment, including harassment, violence and discrimination,” Byard said. “Tonight they know that they are not alone in facing those challenges. Indeed, the United States government itself has their backs.”
Moore said society’s shifting attitudes toward sex means churches must be more vigilant about teaching “God’s good creation design of male and female.”
“We should recognize that unbiblical caricatures of masculinity and femininity were always harmful, but now are potentially deadly,” he said. “The little girl in your church who doesn’t like princess movies or dolls, and who would rather spend a Saturday in the deer stand, increasingly now is told by the culture around her that maybe she’s not a woman at all.”
“Only a church that defines its vision of masculinity and femininity from the Word of God, not from cultural tropes, can speak to her,” Moore continued. “If you don’t have a category for a rough-and-tumble woman, like Jael, or a harp-playing man, like David, your church is handing over your children to the gender ideologies of the moment.”