Can Private Schools Legally Discriminate Based on Religion?

Yes, religious private schools can legally discriminate on the basis of religion. This means that students who practice a different faith may be denied admission to a religious school and banned from classes or expelled for violating the school's faith-based code of conduct. Additionally, religion-controlled private schools can discriminate on religious grounds in hiring decisions. For example, Jewish schools have no obligation to consider Catholic or Muslim teachers for their faculty. Discrimination in private religious schools is nothing new.

Investigations have found that many Florida private schools exercise anti-LGBTQ policies, and the Catholic Church has more than once fired teachers for being gay. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that protects people with disabilities from discrimination. However, the ADA contains an exemption for religious institutions, including religious schools. Therefore, the ADA does not apply to religious schools, nor does it offer students who attend these schools protection from discrimination. Title IX ensures that public schools do not discriminate on the basis of sex, although regulations from a decade ago allow single-gender public schools if certain conditions are met.

Therefore, a public school district may offer a single-sex nonprofessional school, provided that it provides a school substantially equal to students of the excluded sex. While these cases can be difficult to resolve, there are steps you can take if you think your child has experienced discrimination in their private school. There are exceptions for sectarian schools that exclude students of a particular race on religious grounds, meaning that a private religious school may be able to discriminate on the basis of race if there is a faith-based justification. Because many private schools participate in federal financial assistance programs, such as school breakfast and lunch programs, financial assistance for low-income students, and federal grants, they are subject to federal anti-discrimination laws with respect to any program or activity that receive federal funds. Religious schools that receive school choice vouchers and charter schools can fall into this category. This is partly because students who choose to attend private school, including through a voucher program, lose their right to an “adequate and free public education” that is otherwise guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs and school activities, so any school that receives federal funding cannot discriminate on the basis of sex. If a private school discriminates against your child based on ethnicity or disability, consider consulting with a lawyer.

Thanks to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, plus a series of Supreme Court cases resolved since then, no private school can discriminate on the basis of race, color or national origin, in admissions or hiring, or anything else; those that do so would lose their status as a non-profit organization Internal Revenue Service. States can institute their own protections, but Maryland is the only state that has banned private schools participating in school choice programs from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. The main question is whether private schools can choose not to enroll students or hire teachers based on race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, or disability status. I thought it might be useful to understand the current obligations of private schools when it comes to civil rights and how this varies (if at all) for schools participating in state voucher programs. They are religious which means that most private schools are free to discriminate against LGBT students on religious grounds.

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