Fighting Title VI Religious Discrimination at Your College or University

Religion's Role at Colleges and Universities

Faith is important, more important to many college and university students than anything else. Prioritizing faith above other things, including school pressures, demands, and expectations from professors, staff, administrators, and student peers, can keep a student grounded. Religious practices and observances can hearten, heal, guide, and empower a student for college or university success. Students shouldn't have to relinquish their religious beliefs, practices, and identity to attend a college or university. Colleges and universities, and their students and personnel, should value and support the religious beliefs of their students, and not simply because those beliefs tend to promote student welfare and the order and vitality of the school community. Schools should also respect student religious beliefs and practice because of this nation's core commitment to that value, the first value expressed in the First Amendment.

Most colleges and universities do value, respect, and even protect the religious beliefs and practices of their students. Indeed, many colleges and universities have vital faith communities of which their students are a vital part. Professors, staff members, deans, and classmates generally speak respectfully of student religious practices and beliefs, affording students of faith the same educational support and opportunities as other students, as well they should. You deserve that respectful treatment of your religious beliefs and practices just as much as you deserve respectful treatment of your mental and physical health, property security, and other non-religious rights and interests.

Religious Discrimination and Harassment at School

Religious discrimination and harassment nonetheless happen at colleges and universities across the nation. The recent case of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship/ USA v University of Iowa provides a clear example. In that case, the university had revoked a Christian student organization's registration, barring its Christian members from meeting at the university because the members sought to maintain the organization's Christian leadership. The university also demanded that the organization stop encouraging its members to live by their shared faith. The university then applied its ruling to other organizations professing Muslim, Sikh, and other faiths. The federal courts, though, struck the university's actions as unconstitutional, allowing the faith organizations and their members to once again practice their faiths.

The Intervarsity case was one of several of the same or similar nature occurring around the nation. Those cases show that college and university officials may attempt to apply other secular human rights and civil rights codes, values, and commitments to undermine the sacred values and commitments of religious students and their faith organizations. Americans are generally well aware of the increasing tension between competing interpretations that secular and sacred stances give to moral and social issues of the day. Colleges and universities should be places where students can freely share, explore, and learn about those competing commitments. But unfortunately, they are sometimes not safe places to express religious commitments, values, and views. Colleges and universities do discriminate against students based on religion. If you face religious discrimination at your college or university, retain national school attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm to investigate your case, protect your religious freedom rights, and preserve your full right to access to education.

Harassment Can Qualify as Actionable Discrimination

Religious discrimination can occur in different forms. Outright religious discrimination could, as in the above Intervarsity Christian Fellowship/ USA v University of Iowa case, take the obvious form of your college or university barring you from some educational activity or benefit because of your professed faith. But religious discrimination can also take subtler forms that instead qualify for relief under the laws of harassment. The University of Michigan's Standard Practice Guide Policies provides a good example of how colleges and universities interpret non-discrimination commitments to reach religious harassment. The university's Practice Guide Policies define the harassment form of discrimination to include actions that:

  • Adversely affects a term or condition of an individual's education, living environment, or participation in a university activity
  • Have the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's educational performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, offensive, or abusive environment for that individual's education, living environment, or participation in a university activity

These definitions, often referred to as the hostile environment form of harassing discrimination, reach conduct that unreasonably burdens and interferes with a student's religious beliefs and practices, even if that conduct does not involve an outright bar to education. Perpetrators can express hostility to one's religion in things like slurs, jokes, mockery, sarcasm, offensive images and representations, misuse of religious symbols, words, and texts, and abuse of sacred items. When that hostility has the purpose or effect of keeping the religious student from participating in a college or university education, the conduct is actionable as religious discrimination.

Harassment isn't merely a lesser form of discrimination. Harassment can be a worse form of discrimination than direct conditioning of educational access based on religious views. Harassment can cause deep shame, embarrassment, isolation, ostracization, and mental, emotional, and spiritual distress. Harassment can also affect physical health and welfare. If you find yourself suffering any effect from religious harassment that is keeping you from enjoying the full benefit of your schooling, get the academic attorney help you need to restore your religious freedom rights and preserve your education. Retain national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm to investigate, evaluate, and pursue your religious discrimination claim. Your religion and your education are both worth preserving.

Title VI and Religious Discrimination

Federal laws discourage and prohibit religious discrimination at colleges and universities, although those laws are complex. The main federal discrimination prohibition, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, does not expressly prohibit religious discrimination. Title VI instead protects students against discrimination based on race, color, and national origin. Yet many religious discrimination claims still get litigated under Title VI. A Department of Education Office of Civil Rights publication, Know Your Rights: Title VI and Religion, explains how religious discrimination fits into Title VI. Title VI prohibition against race, color, and national origin discrimination also reaches discrimination based on a student's perceived ancestry, ethnicity, citizenship, or residency associated with “a dominant religion or distinct religious identity.” The Office of Civil Rights explanation continues:

Title VI prohibits discrimination against students of any religion when the discrimination involves: racial, ethnic, or ancestral epithets, or slurs; how a person or group looks, dresses, or speaks if linked to ethnicity or ancestry (e.g., skin color, facial features, attire, accent, language spoken); potentially or allegedly inherited traits; [or] stereotypes about people who share certain ancestral or ethnic characteristics.

Based on these interpretations, federal agencies and the courts will recognize student claims against their school under Title VI in cases in which the discrimination also involves race, color, or national origin. As the Office of Civil Rights explanation repeats: “These laws protect students who are or are perceived to be members of a religious group, such as Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs, from discrimination on any of the bases described above” including race, color, or national origin. You have a legal leg on which to stand in your religious discrimination claim against your school, both under Title VI and other law.

Religious Discrimination with Other Discrimination

When a college or university harasses or discriminates against a student based on the student's religion, through its professors, instructors, staff members, administrators, or students, those perpetrators likely also have race, color, or national origin prejudices and motives. Psychologists, sociologists, and other experts in associative thinking know that when a perpetrator of harassment and discrimination harbors racial prejudice and motives, the perpetrator also likely harbors other prejudices, including religious prejudices. That's how associative thinking works. The American Psychological Association's Dictionary of Psychology defines associative thinking as “a relatively uncontrolled cognitive activity in which the mind wanders without specific direction among elements, based on their connections (associations) with one another, as occurs during reverie, daydreaming, and free association.” That loose, illogical association of one characteristic with other characteristics causes individuals who exhibit religious prejudices to exhibit racial and other prejudices right along with it.

If you face religious discrimination at your college or university, chances are good that your academic attorney's skilled investigation will discover other evidence of race, color, or national origin discrimination. Just because Title VI doesn't directly prohibit religious discrimination, don't assume that you are without supporting the law. Let national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm team investigate, evaluate, and help you make a sound judgment about the strength of your religious discrimination claim against your school. Don't make that important judgment on your own without the skilled and experienced attorney advice and representation you need and deserve.

Other Laws Prohibiting Religious Discrimination

Title VI, though, isn't the only law under which college and university students can pursue claims of religious discrimination. Other federal civil rights laws directly or indirectly prohibit religious discrimination in colleges and universities. For instance, public colleges and universities have the constitutional obligation to respect their students' First Amendment rights of freedom of religion, freedom of association, and free expression. College or university officials who violate a student's First Amendment religious rights may be liable under a federal civil rights statute 42 USC §1983. That law, while providing for money damages to the student, also permits a student to obtain injunctive relief restoring the student's rights. For example, the student faith organization bringing the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship/ USA v University of Iowa case cited and discussed above sued the university under 42 USC §1983 to enforce the members' First Amendment religious, free expression, and free association rights.

Congress has also enacted a specific law, the Equal Access Act, 20 U.S.C. §4071, ensuring that students in secondary schools do not suffer religious discrimination. State constitutions and civil rights laws may also guarantee students at all school levels freedom from religious discrimination. You may well have a Title VI claim for religious discrimination available to you because of the defendants' simultaneous race, color, or national origin discrimination. But whether you do or do not, you may also have a 42 USC §1983 claim to enforce your First Amendment religious, free expression, free association rights, and claims under other federal or state laws. If you face religious discrimination at your college or university, retain national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm team to pursue your claim and preserve your access to education along with your religious freedom rights.

College and University Religious Non-Discrimination Codes

Whether the law requires a school to avoid religious discrimination or not, colleges and universities across the country make that commitment in their non-discrimination codes. Those non-discrimination policies and codes also routinely provide a student with procedures to complain of religious discrimination. Complaints should invoke a university investigation. Credible complaints of religious discrimination may result in the perpetrating student's or employee's sanction up to and including dismissal. Those policies do not typically provide money damages for the student. But a student may obtain internal school relief from religious discrimination. Consider these code and policy examples:

  • The University of Chicago's Non-Discrimination Statement states expressly that the university does not discriminate based on religion. The statement refers to the university's Policy on Harassment, Discrimination, and Sexual Misconduct for detailed procedures under which to pursue a religious or other discrimination complaint.
  • Mississippi State University maintains a Religious Beliefs and Accommodations FAQ noting that the school's Non-Discrimination Policy includes religious protections. The FAQ directs students who suffer religious discrimination in any university program, service, opportunity, or activity, including education, research, extracurriculars, athletics, or housing, to contact the university's Civil Rights Office.
  • The University of Iowa maintains a Statement of Religious Diversity that offers religious accommodations in matters like attendance while also guaranteeing that the university will not discriminate based on religion. The university's Statement of Religious Diversity refers students to the university's Policy on Human Rights for enforcement procedures.
  • The private Liberty University, founded as a Christian faith institution, nonetheless maintains a Non-Discrimination Policy, assuring students that the university will not discriminate based on religion. The university qualifies that commitment, though, saying, “Liberty University maintains its Christian character and reserves its right to discriminate on the basis of religion to the extent that applicable law respects its right to act in furtherance of its religious objectives.”

The Difference Between Administrative Relief and Litigation

The above college and university religious non-discrimination statements and policies generally aim at internal administrative relief within the school. Your school's religious non-discrimination policy and procedures may enable you to gain helpful relief from burdens on your religious faith and practices. Those procedures can be complex and, in themselves, burdensome. If you need help exhausting your school's administrative procedures relating to religious discrimination, retain the help of the skilled and experienced national academic administrative attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm. Don't let your school's seeming indifference to your concerns and complaints of religious discrimination discourage you from accessing and exhausting those administrative procedures.

You may well need to exhaust your school's administrative procedures before taking your religious discrimination claim to court. Title VI and other laws cited and discussed above may well give you a civil court claim for money damages and injunctive relief, relating to religious discrimination at your college or university. But related law may bar you from maintaining that court claim, or may limit your damages or other relief claims, unless you first give your school the chance to correct the discrimination through its administrative procedures. That's how school administrative procedures tend to relate to court civil litigation to enforce rights. Laws permitting court actions for relief against colleges and universities tend to require that you first exhaust school administrative procedures. Retain national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm team to represent and assist you. Don't stumble on these complex laws, rules, regulations, and procedures. Get the skilled and experienced attorney representation you need.

Agency Enforcement of Religious Rights

You may wonder what role federal agencies play in the enforcement of student religious freedom rights. The Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights accepts the mission “to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence through vigorous enforcement of civil rights in our nation's schools.” Federal employees in regional offices of the Office of Civil Rights review, accept, and pursue some cases against colleges and universities alleging race, color, national origin, and sex discrimination. As indicated above, the Office of Civil Rights lacks the authority under Title VI to pursue a religious discrimination case unless it involves discrimination based on one of those other protected categories. Students presenting their claims to the Office of Civil Rights can benefit from skilled attorney representation. Retain national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento to advise you whether to pursue agency representation and, if so, to help you procure it.

The possibility exists that you could obtain federal agency representation in your religious discrimination case, especially if you have skilled attorney representation. But agency representation remains unlikely, and not just because you'd also have to present evidence of race, color, national origin, or sex discrimination. Despite the greater resources of the federal government, federal agencies still have limited time, budgets, personnel, and resources. If those offices take any cases, those cases may be larger class action cases or cases involving notorious issues that publicity demands the agency address. In contrast, your religious discrimination claim, while notorious in your reasonable view and highly important to you, may not fit the criteria that the Office of Civil Rights applies to screen cases. Private attorney representation and private litigation through the civil courts may be your only effective remedy. Let national academic attorney Joseph D. Lento help you evaluate your best course of action to pursue your religious discrimination claim.

The Role of a National Academic Attorney

You have a lot to do to investigate, confirm, present, and litigate a religious discrimination claim against your college or university. Indeed, you have a lot more to do than your time and energy likely permit, even if you had the knowledge and skills to do it. A skilled and experienced academic attorney does much more to assist you with your religious discrimination claim than simply knowing and following the law, codes, rules, and procedures. An academic attorney's role also includes these and many other important activities, supported by the law firm's team, each critical to the success of your religious discrimination claim:

  • Investigating, interviewing, and gathering statements and evidence
  • Researching school policies and procedures and applicable law
  • Organizing, preparing, and presenting evidence
  • Drafting complaints, petitions, motions, and briefs
  • Communicating with the school in all ways relating to the matter
  • Documenting demands, meetings, agreements, and directions
  • Ensuring that you exhaust school administrative procedures
  • Evaluating your claim to advise you of strategic options
  • Appearing at meetings, conferences, and hearings on your behalf
  • Negotiating with school officials over appropriate relief
  • Documenting, executing, and enforcing settlement agreements

Retain a Premier National Academic Attorney

If you face Title VI religious discrimination at your school, you need the special skills and extensive experience of a premier national academic attorney. National academic attorney Joseph D. Lento, with the support of the Lento Law Firm team, has helped hundreds of students nationwide in disputes with their college or university. Attorney Lento's success in hundreds of such cases assures you that you are getting a highly qualified attorney representative for your college or university religious discrimination case. Attorney Lento combines preeminent skills with a passionate commitment to student causes. You can do no better than to retain attorney Lento and the Lento Law firm as your first step toward pursuing and winning your religious discrimination claim. Don't let your college or university burden your faith and discriminate against you based on your religious beliefs and practices. Get the skilled and experienced national academic attorney help you need. Call 888-535-3686 or go online now.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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