By Clay Bolton, LaGrange College
At least 306 sport and transgender-related bills were introduced to state legislation between 2020-2022, and 15% of these bills became law (Nakajima & Jin, 2022). Additionally, many cases involving religious freedoms and sports have made headlines in recent years (Johnson, 2022).
New litigation, involving both transgender-related sports and religious freedoms, has emerged in Vermont, where Mid Vermont Christian School has filed a federal lawsuit against members of state educational agencies for excluding the school from participating in a state tuition program and for not allowing its students to participate in athletics. While this situation is somewhat complicated on the surface, the issues at hand involve the rights of a private Christian k-12 school to uphold its own standards based on the school’s religious beliefs. Including the stance, the institution takes on marriage and sexuality.
“And, while students who are questioning their sexuality and gender are welcome to attend Mid Vermont Christian, the School expects all students to adhere to all school policies, including the school’s policies on bathroom and locker room usage, pronoun usage, dress codes, and participation in athletics that are based on Mid Vermont Christian’s religious beliefs. (Mid Vermont Christian School, 2023).
The lawsuit filed in the US District Court for the District of Vermont in November of 2023 was done with the assistance of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorneys and staff.
In the state of Vermont, school districts are permitted to use the state’s Town Tuition Program (TTP) to send students to other public-school districts nearby or to private schools. The decision to approve schools (based on standards such as curriculum and quality of education) rests in the hands of the Vermont State Board of Education.
While religious schools were previously excluded from the tuitioning program, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled in 2021 that Vermont could not exclude schools because they were religious. Following this ruling and a Supreme Court decision about a similar tuition program in Maine, Vermont began including religious schools such as Mid Vermont Christian in its program. But in May 2022, Vermont finalized rule changes requiring schools in the tuitioning program to comply with the Vermont Public Accommodations Act and Fair Employment Practices Act, both of which prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity.” (Foley, 2023).
Mid Vermont Christian School was asked to amend an addendum clarifying how it would operate within the requirements of the Accommodations Act and the Fair Employment Practices Act. However, the school held firm on making decisions based on its biblical beliefs and principles. At issue was also the fact that earlier this year, the school refused to play a girl’s playoff game against another school that chose to play a biological male on its team. When the school forfeited the game, the Vermont Principals Association (VPA), which governs middle and high school sports in the state, removed Mid Vermont from the association. Apparently, this expulsion did not include an opportunity for due process or an appeal. Additionally, in the summer of 2022, the Supreme Court ruled in Carson v. Makin that the state of Maine (government) could not preclude parents from using a state tuition program to send their children to private religious schools. It would seem likely that Mid Vermont Christian will prevail in this case, although it is unclear when a decision from the United States District Court for the District of Vermont will be made. In the months ahead, following this complaint through the judicial process will be interesting.
Nakajima, K., Jin, C.H. (2022). Bills targeting trans youth are growing more common — and radically reshaping lives. New Public Radio. https://www.npr.org/2022/11/28/1138396067/transgender-youth-bills-trans-sports.
Johnson, J.E. (2022). Supreme Court reaches a decision in a case involving public prayer. National Federation of State High School Associations. https://www.nfhs.org/articles/supreme-court-reaches-decision-in-case-involving-public-prayer/.
Mid Vermont Christian School, A.G. & M.G., Christopher Goodwin, Bethany Goodwin, T.S. & K.S. Nathaniel Slarve & Dawna Slarve v. Heather Bouchey, Jennifer Deck Samuelson, Christine Bourne, Hartland School Board, Randal Gawel, Waits River Valley School Board & Jay Nichols. Verified Complaint (2023).
Foley, R. (2023). Vermont blocked Christian school from tuition, sports programs due to LGBT beliefs: lawsuit. Christian Post Reporter. https://www.christianpost.com/news/vermont-blocked-christian-school-from-tuition-program-lawsuit.html.