A new lawsuit accuses both Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and President Joe Biden’s administration of punishing low-income children attending Christian schools by threatening to take away the children’s lunches if the school does not adhere to leftist ideological principles, including on gender identity.
Grant Park Christian Academy is a school that serves Tampa, Florida’s low-income minority students. These students benefit from free meals from the school’s lunch program — perhaps the only food they eat all day, says the lawsuit, filed by the Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of Faith Action Ministry Alliance and Grant Park Christian Academy. But under new Title IX interpretations on gender identity, Grant Park Christian Academy may no longer be able to feed these children.
“That choice that they are giving us [is] either to comply with this ideology and alter the course of our operations and to violate our own core principles and beliefs, or lose out on the nutrition for the children, lose out on the meals,” Pastor Alfred Johnson, the founder of Faith Action Ministry Alliance, said in a Wednesday phone interview with The Daily Wire.
“This is not just pertaining to Grant Park Christian Academy,” Johnson added. “You’re dealing with tens of thousands of students who are going to be impacted by this. Some of these schools are not even aware of how Title IX has been reinterpreted. And so many of them are going to be in violation, probably without even knowing about it.”
The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida against both the Biden administration and Fried, the state agriculture commissioner running for governor. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has promised that it will interpret “the prohibition on discrimination based on sex found in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 … to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.” This would mean that schools that do not allow biological males in girl’s sports, girl’s locker rooms, or girl’s restrooms would be considered to be discriminating against students based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
State and local agencies, as well as program operators and sponsors receiving funds from FNS will be required to “investigate allegations of discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation,” the USDA said, and these organizations must update their policies and signage to “include prohibitions against discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.”
Since Grant Park Christian Academy receives funding to pay for school lunches through the Department of Agriculture and through the National School Lunch Program (administered by Fried), the school’s ability to feed the children is at stake, the lawsuit alleges.
The suit also emphasizes that Grant Park Christian Academy never excludes or discriminates against students because of sex, but due to the Biden administration’s re-defining of the word, Fried is “poised to block Grant Park Christian Academy’s funding for school lunches this year.”
“If Grant Park Christian Academy complies with the new school lunch mandate, it will suffer harms to its educational mission, free speech, and religious exercise,” the lawsuit says.
“It will no longer be able to maintain sex-separated restrooms for boys and girls based on their biological differences; to maintain sex-specific dress code and uniform policies, where, for example, only female students are permitted to wear skorts; to draw its workforce from among those who share and live out its religious convictions; and to refrain from using pronouns that do not correspond to biological sex,” the suit adds.
When Grant Park Christian Academy told state officials that the lunch mandate is “not based on an accurate understanding of the law” and emphasized that regardless, there is a religious exemption to Title IX, Fried’s office allegedly told the school that participating schools “must comply” or forgo the lunch program.
“In short,” the suit said, “the Biden Administration and Commissioner Fried’s push to redefine sex in federal law has now reached the point where they will deny school lunches to underprivileged students, just because their school will not violate their religious beliefs.”
“Schoolchildren should not have to pay the price for federal and state officials’ misplaced and unlawful agenda,” the litigation continues. “As other courts have held, government officials act unlawfully when they seek to rewrite Title IX through an arbitrary rule without public participation and oversight—and with no thought to the chaos and confusion.”
ADF Legal Counsel Erica Steinmiller-Perdomo told The Daily Wire in a Wednesday phone interview that the Biden administration is asking the school to “choose between violating its religious beliefs and feeding the children.”
“Under Title IX, this religious school has an exemption from having to comply with policies that do not correspond to their Christian convictions,” Steinmiller-Perdomo continued. “And the Biden administration is trying to erase that exemption.”
Fried has ignored the school’s requests for exemption up to this point, the ADF legal counsel said, noting that the litigation will have the courts weigh in as to “what’s the proper application of Title IX.”