Navigating the Faith-Based Exemption

Generally, all schools that receive federal financial assistance from the Department of Education are subject to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.1 Federal financial assistance includes direct and indirect financial assistance, such as accepting federal student aid money.

Title IX contains an exemption for schools that are controlled by a religious organization if the application would not be consistent with the religious beliefs of the organization.2 

According to prior Department of Education guidance, an institution is considered “controlled” by a religious organization if it meets one or more of the following conditions:3

  1. The school is a department or branch of a religious organization that specifically offers an educational program that prepares students to become ministers of religion or to enter some other religious vocation, or to prepare them to teach theological subjects.
  2. The school requires its faculty, students, or staff to be members of, or express a personal belief in, the religion of the organization that controls it.
  3. The educational institution’s charter and catalog, or other official publications, specifically state:
    1. The school is under the control of a religious organization or another institution that the same religious organization also controls.
    2. The educational institution is committed to the doctrines of a religious organization.
    3. The controlling religious organization, or an institution that the religious organization also controls, appoints the members of the educational institution’s governing body.
    4. The controlling religious organization, or an institution that the religious organization also controls, provides a significant amount of financial support to the educational institution.

Other than schools of divinity, most educational ministries sought qualification under the third set of conditions.

In 2020, the Department of Education updated regulation 34 C.F.R. 106.12(c) to state that “controlled by” means:

  1. A school or department of divinity;
  2. Faculty, students, or employees are members, engage in religious practices, or espouse a personal belief in the religion;
  3. States it is controlled by a religious organization or committed to doctrine of a particular religion, and governing body are appointed by a religious organization, and it receives significant funding from the religious organization;
  4. Statement of religious practices, along with statement that members of the community must engage in religious practices or espouse a personal belief in it;
  5. Published institutional mission that is approved by the governing body and refers to religious beliefs; or
  6. Other evidence to establish the institution is controlled by a religious organization.

1. Title IX and Sex Discrimination, accessed December 10, 2019.
2. U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, Title IX Resource Guide, April, 2015.
3. Exemptions from Title IX, accessed December 10, 2019.