Monday, May 16, 2022
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Doing The Lord’s Work

Jamie Lord grew up in Columbia, South Carolina knowing that she one day wanted a career in law enforcement. After graduating from the University of South Carolina, she decided she would pursue a law degree, and she turned her attention to Regent University. She only knew that the University had a well-respected law school but was not familiar with the school’s fundamentalist roots or its founder, Pat Robertson.

“All I knew was that Regent had a 97% bar pass rate,” she said. “I was also offered a nice scholarship, so I came up for Students Day in 2019 to check it out.” During that visit, she spoke with one of the deans who was also a former student at Regent. “I pulled him aside, and I said, ‘I want full disclosure. I’m a lesbian. Am I going to welcomed here?”

The dean told her that the school welcomed diversity, that they embraced open conversations in the classroom, that she would be a great lawyer, and she would be welcomed.

Fast forward to June of this year when Jamie became one of 40 current and former students at Christian colleges and universities named as plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education.

At issue is the religious exemption to Title IX, the 1972 law prohibiting sex-based discrimination against students at schools that receive federal funds. The Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP), the nonprofit that filed the suit, claims that the religious exemption has allowed schools to continue with discriminatory practices.

“After I had dropped my whole life in South Carolina, left my family, and moved up here, I discovered on the first day of classes that I was not going to be welcome,” she said. “And I was terrified.”

She discovered an overt fundamentalist approach to teaching that allowed open and discriminatory conversations that had no bearing on the subject.

“Instead of discussing property law, they would bring up gay marriage or premarital sex,” Jamie said. “I was also in a study group, and when they found out that I was gay, they were so scared they were going to get into trouble, they kicked me out.”

She was also told that she was going to hell, that gay people were pedophiles, and that if she brought her girlfriend to campus, she would be expelled. When asked why she didn’t leave, she explained that she had already signed a lease for her apartment and accepted a student loan and scholarship, which was basically spent. Also, if she withdrew, she would have been required to wait one full year before applying to another law school.

Despondent and not knowing where to turn, it wasn’t until the following June that she saw a Facebook ad that would change everything

“The ad said that religious schools were being sued. I read it, and I thought oh my god, this is what I’m going through.”

She researched the lawsuit and found Paul Southwick, the lead attorney at the Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP) who filed the original suit and sent him an email recounting her experience. Southwick immediately wrote her back asking for a meeting.

“He was incredible from that moment on,” she said. “He immediately went to Regent and demanded that they leave me alone.”

It was shortly after that meeting that Jamie joined the suit, which been field by REAP in U.S. District Court in Oregon with 33 original plaintiffs the previous March.

In a statement released at the same time as the suit, REAP said, “Religious exemptions to civil rights statutes come at a price. The price is paid by the young and vulnerable who find themselves at the mercy of religiously affiliated, taxpayer-funded social service and educational institutions that often turn them away or force them into the closet.”

“Regent’s very good at getting you in there,” Jamie said. “They say they love and accept everyone. My mom had said to me before I moved that Pat Robertson had a reputation for being a bigot, but I was excited about coming here because they told me I would be welcomed. I had already had bad experiences with the church, and I believed Regent was different.”

“What’s sad to me is that there are so many Christian LGBT kids at Regent who just want to love the lord and be accepted, but they can’t be themselves,” Jamie said. “Meanwhile drugs, drinking, and premarital sex which directly contradict Regent’s policies go unenforced.”

“Discrimination at Regent is through and through,” Jamie said. “And it’s scary because Regent has a direct pipeline to the White House through its internship program. These people are going to be in control and in power, and they want to take so many rights from everyone, be it abortion, gay rights, whatever.”

REAP’s lawsuit is only focused on LGBT law, and Jamie said she and the other plaintiffs are receiving no monetary compensation.

“People think we’re getting money out of this. We’re not getting any money. We’re doing this just to change the religious exemption law. And because it’s the right thing to do.”

In the meantime, Jamie is still pursuing her law degree at Regent remotely. Though the University has threatened to expel her, they haven’t followed through.

“I would have already been expelled were it not for my Federal Title IX complaint and American Bar Association’s regulations of Bar schools. The ABA will shut down Regent in a heartbeat if they expel any student for being gay,” Jamie said.

“That’s the only reason I’m still there.”

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