A federal judge this week rejected a conservative Christian college's request to sidestep new rules under the Biden administration that force religious schools to open women's shared bedrooms and shower spaces to biological males.
Following the more than two-hour virtual hearing, Judge Roseann Ketchmark issued the ruling Wednesday that denied the College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri, a restraining order and a preliminary injunction, which would have provided temporary protection for the school while its court case is pending.
Ketchmark said the school's legal effort in the Western District of Missouri would not protect the college from any liability related to unfair housing allegations.
According to the lawsuit filed in April, the Biden administration was forcing religious schools to violate ideological beliefs by opening dormitories to members of the opposite sex, under subject of punitive damages, six-figure fines, and legal fees, Springfield News-Leader reported.
The college itself seeks to "develop citizens of Christ-like character who are well-educated, hard-working, and patriotic." All unmarried students are required to live on campus during freshman year. Students can apply to move off campus, starting sophomore year, if parents live within 40 miles and financial need is shown.
President Joe Biden issued an executive order in January titled, "Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation." The Department of Housing and Urban Development directed in line with the administration's new interpretation of "sex" that entities covered by the Fair Housing Act cannot "discriminate" based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The plaintiff argues in the suit that the federal directive "chills the speech of colleges who might seek to engage in private religious expression through statements, notices, housing applications, housing programs, and student handbooks governing campus housing on the basis of sex."
A male-to-female transgender individual must now be permitted to share dormitory spaces such as bedrooms, bathrooms, and showers with female students. Since its founding more than one century ago, the College of the Ozarks has upheld the belief that biological sex is assigned by God and is unchangeable.
"Women shouldn't be forced to share private spaces—including showers and dorm rooms—with males, and religious schools shouldn't be punished simply because of their beliefs about marriage and biological sex," said Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Julie Marie Blake via April press release. "Government overreach by the Biden administration continues to victimize women, girls, and people of faith by gutting their legal protections, and it must be stopped." Blake's religious liberty law firm is representing the private liberal arts school in its legal battle.
In response to the ruling, the school's president Jerry Davis acknowledged the college would be appealing. "We will not abandon our mission," he said of providing distinct Christian education to students with financial need. "The fight to protect our religious freedom has just begun," he declared Thursday.
"Religious freedom is under attack in America, and we won’t stand on the sidelines and watch," Davis quipped last month. "To threaten religious freedom is to threaten America itself. College of the Ozarks will not allow politicians to erode this essential American right or the ideals that shaped America's founding."