Article Nov 1, 2016

The future of student privacy at the Supreme Court

Last Friday, it was announced that the Supreme Court would take up the case of Gloucester County School Board v. G.G., a legal dispute over transgender rights that has the potential to impact every school district in America—regardless of location or school board make-up.

To briefly summarize, the case involves Gavin Grimm, a 17-year-old biological female who self-identifies as male, who is seeking access to a boy’s restroom in a public school setting. According to the Associated Press,

Grimm, a 17-year-old high school senior, was born female but identifies as male. He was allowed to use the boys' restroom at his high school for several weeks in 2014. But after some parents complained, the school board adopted a policy requiring students to use either the restroom that corresponds with their biological gender or a private, single-stall restroom. Grimm is backed by the Obama administration in his argument that the policy violates Title IX, a federal law that bars sex discrimination in schools.

The nature of the conflict arises over lower court rulings that disagree on the authority of the Department of Education to redefine Title IX’s sex discrimination prohibition without congressional approval.

Barring sex discrimination based on biological sex or whether “sex” can encompass gender identity is where the foundation of the conflict rests. From the 1970s onward, “sex” has been construed to be synonymous with one’s biology. But with the advent of the transgender movement, activists from that side have sought to sever gender identity from biological sex, thus making it socially acceptable for persons to “identify” as members of the opposite sex.

As I have written previously, the U.S. Department of Education lacks the authority to redefine how statutes are interpreted. But that has not stopped the Obama administration from attempting to use administrative agencies to implement enormous social change. Neither has it stopped federal government from overreaching in local school decisions, using threatening legal measures to force implementation of its policies.

But the broader public interest issue at stake is the outcome of this particular ruling. With the nature of Supreme Court rulings as they are, their precedent effects policy nationwide. In no subtler terms, the Supreme Court is faced with a momentous decision of determining whether schools can make policies based on biological sex.

Restrooms, locker rooms, athletics, overnight stays on field trips, the ability of teachers and students to speak freely about their convictions on biological sex being authoritative in determining gender—each of these categories, and more, will be determined by this Supreme Court’s ruling.

A potential ruling against age-old understandings of biological sex and student privacy would require the rewriting of the most basic aspects of our existence—of what it means to be a man or woman; of whether our bodies are something separate from our minds; of whether there is anything objective and real about our nature; or whether it can be endlessly redefined through self-definition.

All citizens, but especially public school parents and students, are staring down a possible future where it is considered discriminatory to question the legitimacy of transgender ideology or express discomfort at the idea of exposure to members of the opposite sex in a state of undress.

This means the future of student privacy is being wagered on the outcome of eight or nine justices.

There are legitimate reasons that society makes privacy distinctions between men and women. Men and women are different (Gen. 1:27; 2:18; 5:2). This difference manifests itself at the deepest level in biological distinction. For reasons of modesty, safety and privacy, society should continue to make these distinctions as based on biology.

As public debate picks up on the way to oral arguments at the Supreme Court and their eventual decision, let us remember that this ruling isn’t about transgender men or women merely using the restroom of their choice. Instead, the conflict over restrooms is merely a proxy debate for a larger conflict about what it means to be male and female. As Christians, we’re told God created us in his image. God made men and women as equal, but distinct. These distinctions are beautiful, good and a testament to God’s wisdom in creation. Rewriting laws to conform to the spirit of the age cannot rewrite the laws of nature and nature’s God (Ps. 24:1).