Federal judge blocks directive on transgender access to school bathrooms

| August 26, 2016 | 0 Comments

A U.S. District Court judge in Texas has temporarily blocked a directive by the Obama administration on transgender access to bathrooms in public schools, and the injunction applies nationwide.

The directive, or guidance, was issued in May by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education. The agencies said that denying transgender students access to the facilities and activities of their choice was illegal under the administration’s interpretation of the federal Title IX statute prohibiting sex discrimination in educational programs and activities, like sports.

The order by Judge Reed O’Connor in the Fort Worth division of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas prevents the federal agencies from using the directive to threaten to revoke federal financial assistance from schools who do not agree that Title IX protects transgender students.

O’Connor said the language in Title IX is “not ambiguous.” The law “specifically permits educational institutions to provide separate toilets, locker rooms and showers based on sex, provided that the separate facilities are comparable,” he said.

He issued the injunction the evening of late Aug. 18, the Sunday before the school year began in many jurisdictions. The case was heard in Texas, but 13 states were plaintiffs.

The Justice and Education departments issued the directive May 13, saying it applied to all public schools and colleges and universities that received federal funding and the agencies added that they would “evaluate a school’s compliance with these obligations.”

When it was issued, the chairmen of two U.S. Catholic bishops’ committees said that treating “‘a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex,'” as the directive calls for, “is deeply disturbing.”

The statement was issued by Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, New York, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, Nebraska, who chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Catholic Education.

In their statement, Bishop Malone and Archbishop Lucas noted that the Catholic Church “consistently affirms the inherent dignity of each and every human person and advocates for the well-being of all people, particularly the most vulnerable.”

“Especially at a young age and in schools, it is important that our children understand the depth of God’s love for them and their intrinsic worth and beauty. Children should always be and feel safe and secure and know they are loved,” they said.

They said that children, youth and parents in “difficult situations,” such as the focus of the federal guidance, “deserve compassion, sensitivity and respect.”

“All of these can be expressed without infringing on legitimate concerns about privacy and security on the part of the other young students and parents,” the two prelates said, but pointed out that the guidance “does not even attempt to achieve this balance.”

USA Today reported Aug. 22 that the American Civil Liberties Union and four other civil rights organizations issued a statement calling O’Connor’s ruling “misguided” and said they would continue to file lawsuits on behalf of transgender students.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton praised O’Connor for ruling against “the Obama administration’s latest illegal federal overreach.” He said President Barack Obama “is attempting to rewrite the laws enacted by the elected representatives of the people, and is threatening to take away federal funding from schools to force them to conform.”

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