How the federal government is transforming public education

April 29, 2016

On the day that the Supreme Court issued its Obergefell ruling, the U.S. Department of Education quickly changed its Facebook avatar to a rainbow, an image now synonymous with the gay rights movement in America. Easy to overlook (because who among us “likes” federal agencies on Facebook?), the ostensible celebration by the Department of Education communicates one essential reality: The drive toward redefining marriage and abandoning male-female complementarity has gained official government endorsement.

On the one hand, something as silly as a changing Facebook avatars seems innocent and harmless. On the other hand, the mere inclination to celebrate a ruling and a worldview that conflicts with millions of Americans’ own views on sexuality also symbolizes where the future of sexuality in education is headed, or, rather, where it has now arrived.

Fast forward to November 2015 when it was announced that a northern Illinois school district was facing potential lawsuits and a loss of federal funding for refusing to grant a transgender female unfettered access to a women’s locker room, despite having made reasonable and respectful accommodations for the student. According to federal education authorities, making distinctions based on a student’s professed gender identity amounts to a form of sex discrimination, something Title IX was designed to prohibit.

Then in April of this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in favor of a transgender boy—a biological female who subjectively identifies as a boy—that complained that her school had discriminated against her by granting her access only to a single-occupancy restroom, instead of full access to a boy’s restroom and locker room. This restriction, in the eyes of the court, amounts to a form of “psychological harm” for the student and is discriminatory. The ruling declares that the student has grounds to sue her school for acts of discrimination against her. How so? At issue is the interpretation of Title IX by the Department of Education, specifically that Title IX protections against sex discrimination now include the category of gender identity.

Title IX was originally enacted in 1972 to resolve disparity and discrimination on the basis of one’s biological sex in educational settings. This was wise policy and made sure that men and women were treated equally. Title IX also made an explicit provision (§ 106.33) that allowed for making distinctions based on biological sex for purposes of assigning who can use bathrooms or locker rooms. But according to the Fourth Circuit, Title IX now includes the legitimately-interpreted provision that it is discriminatory to only take into account biological sex for determining proper bathroom standards. In this instance, because the student “identifies” as a boy, the court held that overlooking gender identity is a form of sex discrimination. The Fourth Circuit Court reached this newfound discovery by appealing to the Department of Education’s lawless re-interpretation of Title IX, which in itself, is not a law, as it was never given any congressional approval.

In his dissent, Judge Paul Niemeyer makes note of how far-reaching the court’s opinion really is: “the majority’s opinion, for the first time ever, holds that a public high school may not provide separate restrooms and locker rooms on the basis of biological sex.”

The impact of the Fourth Circuit ruling is subtle, but sweeping. Government, by circumventing the democratic process, is adopting the approach that the distinguishing hallmark of men and women is psychological self-description. Critics might respond that the court has not altogether rejected biological categories of gender, but those critics would be wrong. Once the court allows self-will and self-description to be the controlling interpretation for what constitutes valid gender identity over and against anatomical and biological objectivity, the preeminence once given to chromosomal and biological understandings of gender will have receded into the background. In the eyes of the court, the autonomous, radicalizing-self of expressive-individualism has greater authority than chromosomes, the testimony of tradition, and common sense.

The day is coming where the abandonment of all forms of biological sex distinction will lead, ultimately, to the collapse of gender differentiation, and will result in the loss of all forms of privacy. While I am hesitant to be hyperbolic, I see nothing in the court’s logic that would prohibit a boy from gaining access to a girls’ shower facility due to nothing but the boy's outward identification regardless of his true desire. It is not difficult to see how policies of this nature can be abused. According to Judge Niemeyer:

This holding completely tramples on all universally accepted protections of privacy and safety that are based on the anatomical differences between the sexes […] This unprecedented holding overrules custom, culture, and the very demands inherent in human nature for privacy and safety, which the separation of such facilities is designed to protect.

Moreover, Judge Niemeyer notes the inconsistency of claim made by “G.G.,” the transgendered boy at stake in this case. In his view, the claim of “severe psychological distress” is a moot consideration because it overlooks competing claims of “severe psychological distress.”

And, unwittingly, it [the majority opinion] also tramples on the very concerns expressed by G.G., who said that he should not be forced to go to the girls’ restrooms because of the “severe psychological distress” it would inflict on him and because female students had “reacted negatively” to his presence in girls’ restrooms. Surely biological males who identify as females would encounter similar reactions in the girls’ restroom, just as students physically exposed to students of the opposite biological sex would be likely to experience psychological distress. As a result, schools would no longer be able to protect physiological privacy as between students of the opposite biological sex. [emphasis mine]

What is happening? Through non-legal means, and by way of the court system, the government is implementing a systematic top-down push to mainstream transgender ideology by circumventing democracy. The likely scenario is coming where this case, or cases like it, will go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Implications for public education

Parents cannot be caught flat-footed. Action taken by the courts will inexorably work their way down to every local district and school. Given the nature of the government tying federal education funding with compliance to federal law, this “trickle down” effect will be gradual and incremental, but certain. Schools that believe themselves surrounded by a conservative community may think themselves insulated from cases like the one mentioned above, but funding in exchange for compliance will ensure that, barring a change in administration and court rulings, every school will be made to care and comply in the long-term.

Some parents may think to themselves “We live in a conservative area. The majority of teachers at our schools are Christians.” These facts will not matter. Because the federal government plays a heavy hand in public education in America, the federal government will work to make sure that its values and laws are followed. The nature of government is to ensure uniformity. And uniformity is achieved through coercion, a power that only governments possess. While the government believes its policies are merely a reflection of society’s changing views on sexuality and gender, the adoption of this secular orthodoxy will put Christians in public schools in a precarious position.

We have to see the action taken by the government for what it is: secular orthodoxy that puts Christians in a minority. Not only is the integrity of the Christian worldview at stake, but also the integrity of what it means to be made in the image of God. The idea that human nature is plastic, pliable, and subject to re-definition-at-will is a direct assault on the common good and the norms that make human flourishing possible. Christians must declare, with both compassion and respect, that re-making ourselves in our own image is the very undoing of humanity, for the disavowal of creational limits results in its own form of judgment and human misery (Rom. 1:18-25).

What must Christians do?

Two days after the Obergefell ruling, pastor John Piper tweeted the following: “There is now no legal way for your children to be taught any normal view of human sexuality.”

Such statements are a sobering reality of what’s at stake in the government’s adoption of unbiblical morality. The actions taken by the federal government give all credible evidence that even a semblance of sexual sanity has been eclipsed by a sexual and lifestyle libertinism. The first step in parenting is to simply be aware. Christian parents, are you aware? Have you asked your children what they’re being taught constitutes a “man” and “woman” in their local school? Are you aware of what family structure is being openly taught to your child or children? Are you having conversations with them helping them prepare for the day when their faith will be tested?

The threat and prospect of minority status is no reason to fear, but it should force us to change our expectations about what’s possible within public schools. So how should Christians respond to the increasing intolerance of Christian sexual morality in public schools?

1. Christians should take stock of the cultural moment, which sounds harder than one would imagine. With parents busy being employees, spouses, and parents, it is easy to overlook the thousand and one ways that children are being morally instructed and habituated in local schools. Parents should take active roles in discovering what their children are learning and combatting errors where necessary. Christian parents will also need to pay closer attention to ways in which government works to enforce moral norms.

2. Christian parents need to establish a tipping point. This may be the most important response to consider. What actions taken by your local school will be sufficient for you to re-evaluate public education? Is having a teacher reprimand your child for his or her belief about marriage, sex, and gender acceptable? Will you allow them to be in schools where bathroom policies are based on gender identity rather than biological sex? Not establishing a tipping point could leave your child over-exposed to environments they shouldn’t be in. Not thinking about a tipping point is irresponsible and will communicate carelessness about a child’s education and Christian formation. This is not a call to exit the public schools; it is a call to vigilance. It is advisable that spouses have a candid conversation and establish a line in the sand.

3. Focus on the local. While the transgender revolution is unstoppable given the current course we’re on, holding schools, principals, and school boards accountable by registering respectful concern is necessary. Your opinion is as worthwhile as every other parent’s opinion, even if it is politically incorrect. Monitoring the action taken by schools is essential, as schools are most likely to implement ill-advised policy if there is no accountability.

4. Vote. From local school board elections all the way to the president of the United States (who appoints education secretaries), voting ensures that your biblical worldview is given equal footing. The ability to install like-minded officials who share a biblical worldview can halt or reverse the troubling trends currently in place.

5. Consider running for your local school board. The ability to vote on district-wide policies that implement or halt wrong-headed policies is the best way to ensure that unbiblical and harmful ideologies are averted.

Though it defies history, reality, and common sense, it appears that America is readying itself for a day when all forms of sexual differentiation will be considered discriminatory. Is this lamentable? Of course. Should we be surprised? No. What matters right now is that parents take sober-minded steps to prepare themselves and their children.

Andrew T. Walker

Andrew T. Walker is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Fellow with The Ethics and Public Policy Center. Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24