School Lunch Programs Still Open To Christian Schools

New guidance from the Biden Administration suggests faith-based disagreement with its beliefs on human sexuality will not disqualify Christian schools from participating in federally subsidized school lunch programs.

In May, USDA announced that its Food and Nutrition Service would interpret sex discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) per an earlier executive order by President Joe Biden to broadly apply the 2020 Bostock ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court. This new policy led to significant concern and confusion for Christian schools that had long participated in nutrition assistance programs.

While making the change, a top USDA nutrition official said, “No one should be denied access to nutritious food simply because of who they are or how they identify.” But denying food to children in need was not the true concern. For example, Grant Park Christian Academy, a Florida school serving low-income students in Tampa, told a local official, “To be clear, we would never deny a hungry child food, regardless of who that child is or how he or she identifies.”

Alliance Defending Freedom helped Grant Park Christian Academy lodge a court complaint against the Biden administration and Florida’s agriculture officials in late July — and 22 states similarly filed suit against USDA the same week. Nine days later, ADF received word an exemption would be granted for the school.

That development was followed by general guidance from USDA on August 12 signaling that schools were eligible for exemptions: “If there is a conflict between Title IX and a school’s governing religious tenets.” And while a school could proactively ask for recognition of its exemption, USDA noted that it is available to be claimed automatically without request.

Reflecting on this dilemma earlier this summer, Stanley Carlson-Thies of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance explained the strength of the religious exemption in Title IX. However, he also urged any ministry claiming exemption to “make sure that its documents, policies, and practices show it to be an organization shaped and guided by religion” in case it is ever challenged.

ECFA will continue to monitor this and other religious liberty matters.

This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.