The Archdiocese of St. Louis has become the first to eschew federal funding for the sake of protecting Church teaching.
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The Archdiocese of St. Louis has directed their Catholic schools to no longer take part in the National School Lunch Program. The decision comes on the heels of recent changes to Title IX policies on gender descrimination.
Aleteia has previously reported on the changes to Title IX policies, which expanded the ban on discrimination to include that based on “sexual orientation and gender identity.” Participating schools will be expected to comply with the government’s guidelines on gender identity. This could include allowing the use of preferred pronouns and access to sex-segregated bathrooms and participation in athletics based on gender preference.
These changes have put Catholic schools in a position where they feel they must choose between funds for school lunches and maintaining an educational atmosphere based on the values and teachings of the Catholic Church. While there are stipulations that make it possible for a religious institution to be granted an exemption, each school will have to apply for its own, individually.
This has led to further uncertainty for Catholic schools, as addressing such a quantity of exemption requests could take a considerable amount of time. According to the USCCB, there are 6,429 Catholic schools in the United States, with an estimated 52% of them enrolled in the National School Lunch Program. If even half of this number were to seek exemptions, the courts would have to sift through upwards of 1,600 cases.
Now it appears that the Archdiocese of St. Louis has decided to cut ties with the National School Lunch Program, rather than pursue an exemption. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a memo was sent from the archdiocese to pastors, school presidents, and principals with the new direction. The memo stated:
“Due to changes in the interpretation of the Civil Rights Act, the non-discrimination statements for these programs has changed significantly,” reads the memo, sent by General Counsel Tom Buckley. “Schools that receive funds from the USDA would be required to adhere to the policies of these programs. The changes in these policies would be problematic for schools and programs of the Archdiocese to fully live out the mission of our Catholic Church.”
The statement did not expressly cite the Title IX changes as the catalyst for their decision, but its timing suggests that they influenced the decision. The memo went on to note that the Archdiocese is exploring options to provide similar services to children and families that qualify for the National School Lunch Program. Furthermore, they have requested that St. Louis schools appeal on a local level for support in funding such measures.
While the Archdiocese of St. Louis has cut ties with the National School Lunch Program, many others are preparing to seek exemptions from the new rules in order to maintain their lunch funding. In Florida, Grant Park Christian Academy has already sought and secured a religious exemption.
This decision, however, does not set a precedent for other cases and other religious schools will have to submit their own cases for exemption. In an interview with CNA, Erica Steinmiller-Perdomo, legal counsel with the nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom, noted that until the cases can all be settled, many Catholic schools will be left wondering how to proceed:
“There is no telling how long it will take for the government to respond to them without a pending lawsuit … and they have no idea if they need to comply with the unlawful mandates in the meantime.”