Last week’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that expanded the fundamental right of marriage to all same-sex couples was historic. For years, LGBT rights advocates worked tirelessly to end state discrimination and their labor bore fruit in an eloquent and readable opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy. Some vestiges of government-backed discrimination, however, remain and must be swiftly addressed.
It is time we strip discriminatory primary schools in Georgia of their tax-exempt status and state benefits.
First, let’s turn to the historical precedent for this move. The Internal Revenue Service in 1970 initiated a policy that tax-exempt statuses would no longer be conferred on private educational institutions that discriminated on the basis of race. At the time, Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, prohibited the admission of applicants that were in interracial relationships, banned students from marrying a person of another race, and punished those that advocated for interracial marriage. The IRS determined that Bob Jones’ policies ran counter to the underlying policy aims of tax-exempt law— to bolster charitable organizations that benefit of society. Subsequently, it stripped Bob Jones of its tax privileges.
Bob Jones challenged the IRS’ action and sued claiming the University’s religious freedom rights were violated. In 1982, the Supreme Court rejected Bob Jones’ claim noting, “racial discrimination in education is contrary to public policy.” This fundamental principle, of course, had been true of public schools since Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. The Bob Jones decision further expanded this basic tenant of the American social contract to private higher education.
In Georgia today, hundreds of religious schools in Georgia ban openly LGBT students. These schools are operating segregated institutions that deprive young LGBT Georgians access to quality education. Discriminatory schools impose harmful stigmatization on these young people and demonstrate to their peers an unacceptable level of tolerance for anti-LGBT animus. As LGBT children are often vulnerable to adverse mental health issues stemming from exposure to bias, humiliation, and ridicule, these private schools inflict a tremendous amount of untold harm. Swift action on the part of the IRS to strip anti-LGBT schools of tax benefits is warranted.
Worse yet, well over 100 of these private schools recieve state government collected scholarship funds. In this sense, the government advances anti-LGBT religious schools’ discriminatory policies by doubly subsidizing them. In 2015 and in wake of Obergefell, this simply cannot stand. While it would be condemnable in any event that a school would ban a class of persons from its student body, the government must never fund it. Full stop. The Georgia General Assembly must pass legislation next session prohibiting the use of government sponsored scholarship funds to discriminatory institutions.