Franciscan University Rejects Biden Administration’s Transgender Policies in Title IX

Religious schools, such as the Catholic Franciscan University, are exempt from Title IX provisions that violate their faith.

Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, chapel and statue.
Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, chapel and statue. (photo: Joseph Antoniello / Wikimedia Commons)

Franciscan University of Steubenville will continue to separate its housing, restrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams on the basis of biological sex — rather than self-asserted “gender identity” — despite recent federal changes to Title IX guidelines.

The announcement comes after President Joe Biden’s Department of Education issued a new interpretation of Title IX, which states that all prohibitions on sex discrimination will now apply to discrimination based on a person’s self-asserted “gender identity.” 

Religious schools, such as the Catholic Franciscan University, are exempt from Title IX provisions that violate their faith.

Father Dave Pivonka, the president of Franciscan University, sent a letter to students that stated that the new interpretation of Title IX does not apply to the university because it is inconsistent with the Catholic Church’s teaching on sex. The university president referenced Franciscan’s compendium on human sexuality, which states that a person’s “sexual identity” is based on his or her biology.

“We believe in the inherent dignity of every human person,” Pivonka wrote in the email. “And as a passionately Catholic institution, we believe in and follow the teachings of the Catholic Church that consider ‘sex’ to refer to the objective reality of a human person as a man (male) or as a woman (female), grounded in and determined by a person’s biology.”

Per the university’s policy, neither employees nor students will be forced to refer to a person with pronouns that are inconsistent with the person’s biological sex. They will also not face any discipline for “holding views and beliefs” consistent with the university’s position on human sexuality, which is based on Catholic teaching. 

In his letter, Father Pivonka noted that there is a difference between “behaviors that may be judged by our current cultural norms to be discriminatory,” such as explaining the Catholic teaching on sexuality, and “behaviors that, in fact, violate the dignity of a person,” such as harassment or violence. 

“Violations of the dignity of a person will not be tolerated on this campus,” he said. “Presenting authentic Catholic teachings, which convey truth, beauty, liberty, and healing, uplift the human person in every respect. Teaching what the Church teaches is an act of charity and our duty as a Catholic university.”

The Biden administration implemented the new regulations late last week. According to the executive summary, the changes are meant to “clarify that sex discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of sex stereotypes, sex characteristics, pregnancy or related conditions, sexual orientation, and gender identity.”

The new interpretation of Title IX has already created tension with states that have passed laws restricting women’s and girls’ athletic competitions and other private spaces to only biological women and girls. Public officials in at least two states, Oklahoma and Florida, have already said they would not comply with the new rules.