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Gay Marriage Ruling: What Does It Mean for Christian Colleges?

Christian colleges fear loss of their tax exempt status with gay marriage ruling.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

July 01, 2015

Gay Marriage Ruling: What Does It Mean for Christian Colleges?
As most of the country celebrates the Supreme Court’s ruling last week to legalize gay marriage, others are worried that it may have a negative impact on how they choose to educate, employ and essentially run their “business” of higher learning. Christian colleges are worried about the implications of the decision – will they be forced to recognize gay relationships on campus or close down completely? The main concern for Christian evangelical colleges is losing their tax exempt status, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Colleges receive tax exemptions for being institutions of higher learning, but with the new federal ruling on gay marriage, Christian colleges could be in danger of losing their current status. There actually is precedent for a similar issue, as reported by Inside Higher Ed. Bob Jones University did not admit African American students before 1971, and from 1971 – 1975, the university only admitted African American students that were married. Finally, from 1975 and on, the school only admitted single African American students and denied admissions to those that were in an interracial relationship as well as those who supported such relationships. It wasn't until 2000, actually, that this admissions policy was revoked.

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As a result, in 1970, the IRS informed Bob Jones University that they were going to remove their tax exemption status as a religious, charitable or educational institution in light of their racial discriminatory admission policies. After going back and forth between the lower courts for over a decade, the Supreme Court ruled in 1983 that eradicating racial discrimination in education overrode the University’s ability to claim their First Amendment Rights in practicing their religious beliefs as an institution.
Though this isn’t precedent for gay marriage and Christian colleges, there is the same fundamental issue. Will the IRS be able to remove a school’s tax exempt status as they continue to govern their institution through their religious beliefs?

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Today, many evangelical Christian colleges and universities do not permit students to engage in same-sex relationships, nor do they employ faculty and staff in these types of relationships, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. Should many of these Christian colleges lose their tax exempt status, they may not have the funding to stay in “business,” which will force many of them to close their doors for good. The alternative is to require those schools to compromise their religious beliefs and adopt a more secular stance on gay marriage and relationships. For now, Christian colleges are clinging to the protection of religious freedom, which was also outlined in the decision on gay marriage by the Supreme Court last week. Inside Higher Ed quotes from a statement made by The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities: "The Supreme Court’s affirmation of the First Amendment draws from a deep well of precedent that protects free exercise. Free exercise has long been regarded as a fundamental right under the First Amendment, ensuring religious individuals and organizations can exercise their beliefs not only in synagogues, mosques and churches, but also beyond their walls… The Supreme Court’s majority opinion named with respect the plurality of religious beliefs throughout the United States, and specifically affirmed the space in the public square for individuals to have those beliefs and opinions…It stands to reason, then, that the tax-exempt status and religious hiring rights of religious institutions will be protected when they advance the religious mission of a college or university.”

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