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Justice with Jessica: How religious colleges are permitted to discriminate against LGBTQ+ students

How religious colleges are permitted to discriminate against LGBTQ+ students
ccu journey mueller.jpg
Posted at 3:30 PM, Sep 06, 2023

LAKEWOOD, Colo. — Some colleges are legally permitted to discriminate against LGBTQ+ students because of one big exception to a federal law.

One Colorado woman said her life was turned upside down because of it.

"My mental health had really deteriorated," Journey Mueller said. "So I started self-harming and my anxiety was really bad."

Mueller began attending Colorado Christian University in the fall of 2017. She was interested in the school because of her Christian faith and she got a scholarship to attend.

Mueller said she loved the school right away. She made fast friends with her roommates.

"So we spent a lot of time talking, hanging out watching movies, just having a good time," Mueller said. "So there was definitely the honeymoon phase where I was really excited to be there."

Another honeymoon phase was beginning at that time as well. Mueller began spending more time with a friend from high school who was openly lesbian.

"We ended up deciding to see what it would feel like to be in a relationship together," Mueller said. "And it was the first time I was playing around with any of these feelings, so it was really new to me.”

Colorado Christian University makes students sign a lifestyle covenant which includes a "commitment to the confrontation of community members when they stray from the values, morals, and commitments” of the school.

Students are also instructed “to involve the university when students, after being confronted, continue with inappropriate behavior.”

Mueller's same-sex relationship was considered a violation of the covenant because it was not "love within a heterosexual marriage."

"My roommates kind of started to piece it together and ended up confronting me about it. And then when I ended up telling them what was going on, it launched a huge thing. They ended up reporting me to the disciplinary board," Mueller said. "So about halfway through the first semester, it all started getting crazy."

Mueller said school leaders told her she would need to break up with her girlfriend, renounce her behavior and do mandated therapy through the school if she wanted to stay enrolled.

"I did weekly meetings with the therapist and then also with the mentor," Mueller said. "Both of those meetings were targeted toward getting me away from the homosexual lifestyle."

Mueller said the experience began taking a toll on her.

"I was not sleeping. I stopped going to classes," she said.

Mueller said she was forced to move away from her roommates into her own room.

"That was isolating, so everything just spiraled," Mueller said. "To preserve my own safety and sanity, I decided to leave."

Mueller shared a similar story with several other students who joined the Hunter v. U. S. Department of Education case, challenging the "religious exemption" to "sexual and gender minority students who attend private religious colleges and universities that receive federal funding.”

"We're seeing schools invoking religious freedom to support discriminatory policies against LGBTQ people," she said.

Deborah Jian Lee is a contributor for Esquire and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and author of Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women, and Queer Christians are Reclaiming Evangelicalism.

In a recent article for Esquire entitled Persecution in the Name of the Lord, Lee explained how some religious colleges use an exemption to Title IX in order to discriminate against LGBTQ+ students.

Title IX states “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance[.]”

Lee's article points out that:

Deborah Jian Lee, Persecution in the Name of the Lord, Esquire

“It's very easy for these schools to receive an exemption," Lee said. "They can even receive a religious exemption after a Title IX complaint is filed against them.”

Lee called the information a "big wake up call" to parents.

"I have a lot of early readers of my story," Lee said. "And a lot of them were a parents who said, 'Wow, I had no idea that this exists. I had no idea that I could send my child to a school that seemed great, and that they would be subjected to this kind of treatment that could completely derail their lives.'"

Hunter v. U.S. Department of Education was dismissed in January. The judge found that Congress did not create the challenged part of the religious exemption with discriminatory intent.

While Mueller was disappointed to learn of the case's dismissal, she is pleased with the work she has done herself to overcome her hardships.

"Now I have a job that I'm really passionate about, which is awesome," Mueller said. "I worked really hard to get to a job that I love that pays me well."

Mueller is in a happy relationship, and she has even worked through some of the religious challenges she experienced.

She now considers herself more spiritual then religious.

As the Hunter v. U.S. Department of Education case winds its way through the appellate process, she has faith that something good will come out of it.

"I think the biggest thing I hope for with it is just to bring awareness and educate people," she said. "When I was considering going to Colorado Christian University, I wasn't aware that these policies were taken to the extreme that they are, and they really have a lasting impact. I've been diagnosed with trauma from this because of the harassment and bullying, taken a lot of hours of therapy and treatments and different things just trying to rebuild who I am. So I think just getting it talked about is huge."

In a 2019 Denver Post article, CCU stated that it doesn't use conversion therapy.

Our Denver news partners, reached out to CCU for comment, and have not received an answer at this time.

How religious colleges are permitted to discriminate against LGBTQ+ students