Fear That Being Known as a School That Practices Discrimination Would Harm Its Ambitious Business Plan May Be the Motivator
Earlier this month it was revealed that Pepperdine University had notified the U.S. Department of Education in January that it wanted to withdraw the request it made in 1976 to be exempt from certain provisions of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the law that bans sex discrimination at educational institutions that receive federal funds. The 1976 request was subsequently granted and Pepperdine received a license to discriminate on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
In his letter to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights on January 27, 2016, Pepperdine’s President Andrew K. Belton pointedly remarked that â€œThe University would appreciate OCR from removing it from any list of universities holding a Title IX exemption or, alternatively, including this withdrawal in any public disclosure of its Title IX exemption materials.â€
Some commentators have hailed Pepperdine’s request as evidence of how attitudes toward discrimination against women and LGBT students have changed even at conservative religious institutions and have applauded the university’s evolution on these issues.
But the situation may be more complex. To understand Pepperdine’s request, it must be placed in several contexts.
The university’s request is undoubtedly related to the Human Rights Campaign’s successful petition to the Department of Education to make public the names of the colleges and universities that have taken advantage of the religious exemption process. It may also be related to a lawsuit filed against it in federal court by two lesbian athletes. In addition, a proposed California law relating to colleges and universities that have received Title IX religious exemptions was also probably a factor in the decision.
Pepperdine, which has a long and fraught relationship with the LGBT community, and appeared on a Princeton Review list of most LGBT unfriendly schools,Â has probably made the decision to give up its license to discriminate less as a result of a new embrace of equal rights than out of a fear that being known as a university that practices discrimination will harm its ambitious business plan.
In December 2015, the Human Rights Campaign issued a comprehensive report called â€œHidden Discrimination: Title IX Religious Exemptions Putting LGBT Students at Risk.â€ The report, authored by Sarah Warbelow and Remmington Gregg, highlighted 56 institutions, including Pepperdine, that have utilized a little-known provision in the law that allows educational institutions controlled by a religious organization to request exemption from full compliance with the law if doing so â€œwould conflict with specific tenets of the religion.â€
The report requested that the Department of Education require schools to publish comprehensive information about the scope of exemption they have received, the characteristics or behaviors to which the exemption applies, and the ways in which Title IX still protects students; and for the Department of Education to report regularly which institutions have requested or have been granted religious exemptions covering what behaviors and characteristics.
Noting that LGBT students face alarming rates of discrimination and harassment, the HRC called for a greater level of transparency on the part of the Department of Education and on the part of institutions that discriminate.
On April 29, 2016, the Department of Education complied in part with HRC’s request by making available on its website a database of all the requests for waivers received by the Department. The database, which is searchable in various ways, including by state, regulation, date, and name of institution, makes available a treasure trove of information.
As a result of this action by the Department of Education, it is now possible to discover easily what institutions have sought a license to discriminate on the basis of several characteristics, including gender identity and sexual orientation. Previously, such information could be found only by filing a request under the Freedom of Information Act for each suspected university.
Pepperdine University was established in 1937 as a Christian liberal arts college in Los Angeles. It has since grown into a university best known for its spectacularly beautiful campus overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Malibu and as a hotbed of conservatism. In addition to its main campus in Malibu, it has other campuses in California and several study centers abroad, as well as plans to expand into Texas. It has been ranked among the least gay-friendly universities in the United States.
Pepperdine describes itself as â€œa Christian university committed to the highest standards of academic excellence and Christian values, where students are strengthened for lives of purpose, service, and leadership.â€ It is affiliated with the a capella Churches of Christ, a conglomeration of about 12,000 autonomous congregations and 1,500,000 adherents in the U.S. (and more abroad) united by a few core beliefs, which may be called loosely evangelical and fundamentalist. A majority of the university’s Board of Regents are chosen from among active members of the a capella Â Churches of Christ.
Pepperdine posts several somewhat vagueâ€”and deceptiveâ€“nondiscrimination policies on its various websites. In the faculty manual for its undergraduate school, Seaver College, for example, there is this statement, â€œPepperdine is an Equal Employment Opportunity Employer and does not unlawfully discriminate on the basis of any status or condition protected by applicable federal, state, or local law.â€
A reasonable person might read this statement as meaning that the university does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity since those characteristics are protected by state law and by Title IX. However, when the statement was written the university had a license to discriminate on these grounds from the Department of Education, which in turn was honored by the state of California. Its failure to reveal its exemption in the policy itself amounts to deliberate deception.
The law school, which for several years was led by Kenneth Starr–who represented the supporters of Proposition 8 in the litigation before the California Supreme Court after Prop 8 was passed and not only argued (successfully) that Proposition 8 was constitutional but also sought (unsuccessfully) to invalidate the 18,000 same-sex marriages performed in the state before Proposition 8 was enacted–has a nondiscrimination policy that is even more disingenuous.
No doubt because the American Bar Association requires that accredited law schools not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, the Pepperdine Law School says it does not so discriminate. However, a statement in its nondiscrimination policy, which is both weird and condescending, practically begs students not to do anything gay:
â€œThe School of Law does not discriminate against any person on the basis of any sexual orientation that such person may have. However, sexual conduct outside of marriage is inconsistent with the schoolâ€™s religious traditions and values. Therefore, as a matter of moral and faith witness, the faculty, staff, and students of the School of Law are expected to avoid such conduct themselves and the encouraging of it in others.â€
The statement obviously was written before Proposition 8 was overturned in 2013 since it uses the formula conservative Christians often use to pretend they are not discriminating against LGBT people by saying they are opposed to all sexual conduct â€œoutside of marriage.â€ Now that same-sex couples may also marry, the real question might be whether Pepperdine expects its married gay law students and faculty to live in chastity. What the School of Law means to say is that sexual conduct outside of heterosexual marriage is inconsistent with its values.
Pepperdine’s Boone Center for the Family (named for Pat and Shirley Boone) not only does not have a nondiscrimination policy, but does not even mention same-sex marriage or LGBT families on its website, or, presumably, in its programs.
For years, Pepperdine resisted all efforts on the part of students to establish a recognized LGBT student organization. Back in 2012, when Pepperdine refused for the fourth or fifth time attempts by students to form an organization, one of them expressed anguish at the atmosphere on campus.
â€œThe effects of silence on gay students at Pepperdine are emotionally stressful and spiritually devastating,â€ the student wrote. â€œAs a gay Church of Christ junior on campus, I can personally attest that the silence harbors not only an atmosphere of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ but also an atmosphere where those who hold dangerous attitudes toward homosexuality feel both comfortable and protected speaking out, through religion, against gay individuals. I’ve spoken to classes and a Bible study group at Pepperdine, and have felt the deep pain and fear expressed by gay individuals who have sought my advice afterward. Faculty is afraid of engaging the topic altogether, and when I recently asked my professor if s/he would sign the petition, s/he simply replied, ‘I’m not tenured, Dillon. I’m sorry.’â€
[In the video below from 2012, President Benton explains his decision not to recognize an LGBT student group, ReachOUT.]
However, on March 22, 2016, the administration at Pepperdine suddenly changed course and to the surprise of everyone announced that an LGBT+ club called Crossroads had received official recognition. In the wake of the approval, Pepperdine’s president said that â€œall of our students deserve our deep caring and support,â€ but stressed that Crossroads is not a political club and that its recognition was â€œnot a political statement.â€
Pepperdine’s student newspaper’sÂ report on the club’s recognition contained a telling detail. The club was supported by a petition signed by 50 full-time faculty members, and another 25 who withheld their names. The fact that 25 faculty members in support of the club were afraid to sign their names says a great deal about academic freedom at Pepperdine.
However, the larger question is whether Pepperdine’s rather abrupt but nevertheless welcome reversal of its stand regarding the official recognition of a LGBT student group is evidence of a change of heart or is it, rather, something else? Could it be an attempt to change the school’s image rather than manifest a change of heart?
Haley Videckis and Layana White
In December 2014, two basketball players at Pepperdine, Haley Videckis and Layana White, filed suit against the university and Coach Ryan Weisenberg. In the lawsuit, the women allege that they were harassed and discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.
In their original 24-page complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, the women said that Weisenberg wanted them off the basketball team because he suspected they were dating and believed that that would cause the team to lose games. He allegedly told team members that â€œlesbianism was a big concern for him and for womenâ€™s basketball, . . . and would not be tolerated on the team.â€
They also allege that team staffers regularly asked them about their sexual orientation and sleeping arrangements and asked for access to their gynecology records. According to the lawsuit, the harassment was so severe as to cause White to attempt suicide.
The case was eventually refiled in federal court, where Pepperdine moved to dismiss it on the grounds (among others) that Title IX does not prohibit sexual orientation discrimination.
However, on December 15, 2015, Judge Dean D. Pregerson of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California rejected Pepperdine’s motion to dismiss. He held that Title IX’s prohibition of â€œdiscrimination â€˜on the basis of sexâ€™ encompasses both sex–in the biological sense–as well as gender,â€ and that â€œdiscrimination based on gender stereotypes constitutes discrimination on the basis of sex.â€
With respect to the sexual orientation claim, Judge Pregerson found that â€œthe line between discrimination based on gender stereotyping and discrimination based on sexual orientation is blurry, at best. . . . [and that] claims of sexual orientation discrimination are gender stereotype or sex discrimination claims.â€
Judge Pregerson concluded that Plaintiffs had established a â€œstraightforward claim of sex discrimination under Title IX.â€ He also ruled that Plaintiffs â€œhave clearly pled a plausible claim for retaliationâ€ because they complained to coaching staff and Pepperdineâ€™s Title IX coordinator and were ultimately â€œforced off the basketball team and lost their scholarships.â€
Judge Pregerson subsequently set a trial date for March 2017. I would be surprised if Pepperdine does not settle this case before the trial begins.
Surely, it is not coincidental that soon after this major ruling from a federal judge Pepperdine took steps to improve the climate for LGBT people on its campuses and attempted to reshape its reputation as a university hostile to LGBT students.
Senate Bill 1146
But there may be another reason as well.
In 2015, at the behest of Equality California, two openly gay state Senators– Ricardo Lara of Los Angeles and Mark Leno of San Franciscoâ€”filed Senate Bill 1146, a bill that if passed would require any college or university that received a religious exemption from the U.S. Department of Education and, by extension, from California’s Equity in Higher Education Act to disclose fully and prominently that it had received such an exemption. In particular, students would have to be notified at the time of application that the college or university had a license to discriminate.
The bill would also subject religious institutions–except for those whose purpose â€œis to prepare students to become ministers of the religion or to enter upon some other vocation of the religionâ€–to California’s anti-discrimination laws if they receive assistance from the state or enroll students who receive assistance from the state.
Senate Bill 1146Â is wending its way through the legislative process, having been subject to hearings and amendments in both the Senate and the House. It is likely to be passed; and though it will probably be amended in various ways, its disclosure requirements will almost certainly survive.
A coalition of religious universities have mounted a savage attack on the bill, frequently misrepresenting it and hysterically claiming that it will end faith-based education in California. The coalition includes some of the most virulently anti-gay institutions in the state. Many of these institutions especially fear the provisions that would prohibit state funding of the institutions and their students if they discriminate.
Tellingly, Pepperdine made the decision not only not to join the coalition, but to request the revocation of its license to discriminate. It is obviously more concerned about the disclosure provisions than permission to continue its pattern of discrimination.
Most of the institutions that receive Title IX religious exemptions or that would be affected by Senate Bill 1146 are small, insular schools. Many of them are located in the South and are supported by the Southern Baptist Convention or Pentecostal denominations or small fundamentalist denominations. Â Pepperdine, however, aspires to become a much larger and more influential university than it is. It aspires to national and international recognition, especially of its Law and Business Schools.
Pepperdine’s administration has probably reached the conclusion that in order to achieve its aspirations to become a national university, it is not in its long-term interest to be associated with the smaller and narrower schools that seek licenses to discriminate.
The publicity Pepperdine has received as a result of its annual inclusion in the ranking of anti-LGBT colleges and universities has not burnished its image. Its repeated denial of recognition of LGBT student groups only increased its reputation for intolerance. The lawsuit filed by Haley Videckis and Layana White threatens to damage that reputation even more. The HRC report also highlighted its discriminatory practices. Indeed, Pepperdine has recently suffered a public relations nightmare that threatens its goal to be taken seriously as a major university.
The university’s decision to revoke its license to discriminate was probably a hard-nosed business decision rather than a genuine change of heart. Â Nevertheless, if the decision means that there will be fewer instances of harassment of LGBT students at Pepperdine, less discrimination against faculty members and other employees, and a more welcoming posture toward all, then perhaps the motivation for the turnaround can be seen as less significant than the long overdue change itself.Â
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Watch: Trump’s Attorney Doesn’t Think He Will Be Indicted
One of the attorneys for Donald Trump says she doesn’t think the U.S. Dept. of Justice will indict the former president despite sending a team of FBI agents to Mar-a-Lago nearly two weeks ago to retrieve 20 cartons of White House records including 11 sets of classified documents.
“I don’t see an indictment coming down,” Christina Bobb told Newsmax on Friday (video below.) “I also think the nation’s reaction to this raid, I think the Department was surprised at how angry America got and how frustrated we all are, that we feel that we’re losing our rights?”
Bobb, an OAN host, did not state what rights she believes Americans think they are losing by the Dept. of Justice enforcing the law – a law that her client, Donald Trump, strengthened in 2018, allegedly in response to Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified documents.
“I think it’s causing them to go, ‘Oh, maybe we don’t have what we think we have,’ so I hope they take a second look and are cautious about doing something as stupid as trying to go after President Trump.”
Poll show otherwise. An Economist/YouGov poll taken this week finds more than half (54%) of Americans support the FBI executing a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago. Just 36% disapprove.
Barely weeks after the 2020 presidential election The DailyBeast reported Bobb was “actively working with Trump’s counsel as it seeks to overturn the 2020 election.”
“Bobb’s Twitter feed is clogged with baseless claims of fraud and grand proclamations about Trump’s chances of overturning the election results and securing a second presidential term,” The Daily Beast reported. “During on-air segments, she has suggested that there was indeed a ‘massive amount’ of voter fraud both in Trump’s election and potentially in others, including former Republican candidate Kim Klacik’s race in Maryland (she lost her race in a heavily Democratic district by over 40 percentage points).”
Watch below or at this link:
Trump attorney Christina Bobb, citing how “angry” Trump supporters are in the wake of the Mar-a-Lago search, warns the Department of Justice about possibly indicting Trump:
“I hope they … are cautious about doing something as stupid as trying to go after President Trump.” pic.twitter.com/LsRDOZH1oc
— The Recount (@therecount) August 19, 2022
‘No Basis’: Federal Judge Denies Lindsey Graham’s ‘Unpersuasive’ Attempt to Evade Grand Jury Subpoena
For the second time this week a federal judge has denied U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham‘s attempt to evade a grand jury subpoena requiring him to testify in the investigation of Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, calling his legal argument “unpersuasive.”
U.S. District Judge Leigh Martin May Friday afternoon responded to Fulton County, Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis’ request to order the GOP Senator from South Carolina to appear before the Special Purpose Grand Jury (SPGJ).
“Senator Graham’s arguments are entirely unpersuasive,” Judge May writes, as Politico’s Kyle Cheney notes, “and they do not even demonstrate a ‘substantial case on the merits.’ As an initial matter, Senator Graham takes issue with the Court’s recognition that his sole request-to quash the subpoena in its entirety–was built largely (if not entirely) on the premise that Senator Graham will only be questioned about the phone calls, which Senator Graham characterizes as legitimate legislative factfinding exercises and thus completely protected by the Speech or Debate Clause.”
“Instead, Senator Graham maintains that he believes that the ‘other topics’ will simply be used as a ‘backdoor’ for questioning him about the phone calls,” the judge adds. “The problem for Senator Graham is that the record thoroughly contradicts his suggestion that the District Attorney and grand jury simply wish to use questions on other topics as a ‘backdoor’ to asking him about the legislative fact- finding on the phone calls.”
Judge May found Sen. Graham had “no basis” to claim he should not be ordered to testify, and ordered him to testify on August 23.
“The Court finds no basis for concluding that its holdings as to these issues are likely to be reversed on the merits,” Judge May wrote. “Holding otherwise would allow any sitting senator to shield all manner of potential criminal conduct occurring during a phone call merely by asserting the purpose of the call was legislative fact-finding-no matter whether the call subsequently took a different turn.”
Graham still has other avenues to use to try to evade the lawful subpoena.
As Politico’s Kyle Cheney, who broke this development notes, “the question of a stay rests with the appeals court, which received Graham’s case yesterday.”
Judge May appears to strongly agree with DA Willis’ assessment. The judge writes, “the public interest is well-served when a lawful investigation aimed at uncovering the facts and circumstances of alleged attempts to disrupt or influence Georgia’s elections is allowed to proceed without unnecessary encumbrances.”
In her motion Friday morning Willis wrote, “Senator Graham insists that he seeks to delay his appearance before the Special Purpose Grand Jury not just for his own sake, but also for the sake of the separation of powers, federalism, and ‘for the People.’”
“The Special Purpose Grand Jury, however, is the People,” Willis eloquently explained, “a collection of citizens called together to perform their civic duty on behalf of their neighbors and families. They have sacrificed their time, effort, energy, and attention for months in order to investigate matters that affect themselves, their community, and the nation as a whole. The District Attorney asks that this Court deny Senator Graham’s motion in order that he, for a single day, can assist them in that great task without further delay. The People have requested Senator Graham’s testimony and stand ready to receive it. All that is left is for the Senator to meet them.”
This is a breaking news and developing story.
FDR, JFK, and LBJ: White House (Finally) Takes (Cautious) Victory Lap on Biden’s (Huge) Successes
The White House is coming off a year of approval rating declines, thanks in large part to Republican obstruction and attacks, but President Joe Biden, Democrats, and the nation now have a lot to celebrate.
“We now have a presidency where the president has delivered the largest economic recovery plan since Roosevelt, the largest infrastructure plan since Eisenhower, the most judges confirmed since Kennedy, the second largest health care bill since Johnson and the largest climate change bill in history,” White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, not known for bragging, told Politico’s Ryan Lizza. “The first time we’ve done gun control since President Clinton was here, the first time ever an African American woman has been put on the U.S. Supreme Court.”
“I think it’s a record to take to the American people,” Klain added.
Lizza and Eugene Daniels of Politico’s Playbook note, “At the start of the summer, this conversation would have been vastly different. Now, gas prices have dropped, and the last CPI report hints that inflation may finally be trending down after hitting a peak. Election forecasters are writing pieces at least entertaining the idea that Democrats might not suffer the long-predicted midterm wipeout. And there’s that burst of legislative victories that were squeezed out of Congress in July and August that had Biden, a lover of alliteration, calling this period ‘a season of substance.’”
The Guardian’s Martin Pengelly observes, “Klain’s references to historical figures chimes with Biden’s own interests. The president has regularly consulted historians, among them Doris Kearns Goodwin, Michael Beschloss and Eddie Glaude Jr, while Jon Meacham, a biographer of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and George HW Bush, has been a close adviser in shaping Biden’s effort to restore ‘the soul of the nation’ after the presidency of Donald Trump.”
Pengelly adds: “Democrats control Congress by narrow margins. Opposition parties commonly do well in the first elections of a presidential term, and Republicans remain favoured to take control of one or both chambers. But legislative successes, most recently the passage of a major domestic and climate crisis spending plan, the Inflation Reduction Act, have given Democrats hope.”
With just 80 days to Election Day – less, if you include early voting – FiveThirtyEight put the likelihood of Democrats retaining their Senate majority at 63 in 100 chances, but give Republicans 78 in 100 chances of taking over the House.
You can hear Chief of Staff Ron Klain on Politico’s podcast here.
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