Advance Notice: Briefs

Nessel joins amicus brief with other AGs against religious school Title IX exemptions

By: - August 31, 2023 10:23 am

Attorney General Dana Nessel participates in an interview with the Michigan Advance during the Mackinac Policy Conference on May 31, 2023. (Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance)

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joined several other state attorneys general Tuesday in a brief opposing religious schools getting exemptions from certain civil rights rules without having to ask the Office of Civil Rights.

Under former President Donald Trump’s administration, several changes were made to Title IX, which are federal civil rights laws prohibiting sex-based discrimination in educational organizations that receive federal funding.

The issue addressed in the amicus brief by the attorneys general looks at a 2020 change that allows religious schools to have a reactionary approach to claiming religious exemption.

Previously, schools operated by religious organizations could seek exemption from certain rules against discrimination in Title IX by writing a request to the Office of Civil Rights. The Trump administration altered the rules so educational institutions are only required to write to the office for approval once they are under investigation for non-compliance with the rules.

The change allows schools to more easily discriminate against LGBTQ+ students, Nessel said in a news release Wednesday. Schools can invoke exemption in reaction to students’ complaints and not inform them before they pay tuition or otherwise invest in their educational journey with a certain school.

“Students are entitled to know if their school will assert the religious exemption from Title IX’s anti-discrimination provisions before they become victims, not after,” Nessel said. 

The amicus brief signed by 19 state attorneys general, as well as the District of Columbia, is in support of 40 current and former students who filed a lawsuit looking to end religious exemption to Title IX.

The brief says the Trump-era Department of Education, which was led by former Michigan GOP Chair Betsy DeVos, “acted arbitrarily and capriciously” when changing the rules.

“Title IX was intended to protect students and employees at educational institutions, and part of protecting … them is making clear which educational institutions would claim an exemption from Title IX,” the brief said. “The original written-submission rule achieved that end and created reasonable expectations for students and other affected parties protected by Title IX.”


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Anna Liz Nichols
Anna Liz Nichols

Anna Liz Nichols covers government and statewide issues, including criminal justice, environmental issues, education and domestic and sexual violence. Anna is a former state government reporter for The Associated Press and most recently was a reporter for the Detroit News. Anna is a graduate of Michigan State University.