Christian school sues Vermont officials after facing consequences for anti-trans bigotry
Mid Vermont Christian School refused to play trans athletes or abide by anti-discrimination laws. But they still want access to state-sponsored benefits.
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Earlier this year, a Christian school in Vermont was banned from state-sanctioned sporting events after forfeiting a girls’ basketball game instead of playing against a team with a transgender player on the roster. After their appeals went nowhere, a conservative legal group has now filed a federal lawsuit on the school’s behalf.
This controversy began in February when Mid Vermont Christian School (MVCS) was a #12 seed slated to play against #5 Long Trail School in the Division IV bracket to win the Girls Basketball State Championship.
MVCS refused to play, however, because Long Trail had a trans athlete on the team.
MVCS Head of School Vicky Fogg made a predictably bigoted comment in defense of her school’s decision:
“We withdrew from the tournament because we believe playing against an opponent with a biological male jeopardizes the fairness of the game and the safety of our players. Allowing biological males to participate in women’s sports sets a bad precedent for the future of women’s sports in general.”
She didn’t explain how a trans athlete would impact the “safety” of her players. She didn’t say how the game would be unfair. Like so many right-wing bigots, she used buzzwords so she wouldn’t have to go into details. As research has shown, there’s no consistent evidence showing that trans athletes have a competitive advantage. More importantly, this is high school sports. It’s not professional. It’s meant to be fun. It’s supposed to celebrate the journey more than the outcomes.
For all the concern about the threat to women’s sports, by forfeiting the game, the Christian school denied all the girls a chance to display their skills on the court.
In case you’re curious, Long Trail had a 14-6 record during the regular season (hardly undefeated) and lost the next game in the tournament by a fairly significant margin, 45-26.
To their credit, the Vermont Principals’ Association, which oversees high school athletic competitions in the state, made clear they would stand by their inclusive policies. They have a no tolerance policy when it comes to “discrimination based on a student’s actual or perceived sex and gender.”
The game had already been forfeited by the time the VPA learned what had happened, so they didn’t need to take immediate action.
Two weeks later, though, they made it official: Mid Vermont Christian School would no longer be allowed to participate in VPA-sponsored athletic events. It was a unanimous vote of the 15-member executive committee. It wasn’t even a hard call; state law forbids discrimination against out trans athletes. Still, it’s nice to see an athletic association do the right thing and not cave in to bigot demands.
Jay Nichols, the VPA’s executive director, put it bluntly: “If you don’t want to follow VPA rules, that’s fine… But then you're just not a VPA member.”
MVCS immediately did what right-wing Christians do best: acted like they were being persecuted. They planned to appeal the decision:
“Mid Vermont Christian school is disappointed with the decision of the VPA Executive Council to ban us from participation in all VPA activities. We intend to appeal the decision,” the head of school at MVCS, Vicky Fogg, said in an email. “Canceling our membership is not a solution and does nothing to deal with the very real issue of safety and fairness facing women’s sports in our beloved state. We urge the VPA to reconsider its policies, and balance the rights of every athlete in the state.”
Somehow, “safety and fairness” didn’t bother any other team that played against Long Trail because no one else took the coward’s way out...
The school is now amping up its victim complex by suing state officials for not accepting their anti-trans beliefs. On Tuesday, right-wing legal group Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on behalf of the school and two families claiming that the state violated the school’s First Amendment rights “by preventing them from practicing their religious beliefs about sexuality and gender.”
When the Christian school reluctantly forfeited a girls’ high school basketball game against a team that had a male athlete playing for them, the [Vermont Principals’ Association] kicked Mid Vermont Christian out of the association. Now, despite 28 years of prior participation in the league, the school cannot compete in any VPA athletics, effectively blacklisting the school from all state-sponsored events in the state, including VPA spring sports for which schools are still creating schedules. The VPA is going so far as to exclude Mid Vermont Christian and its students from participating in co-ed academic competitions like the Geo-Bee, Science and Math Fair, and Debate and Forensics League, all because the school believes biological differences between boys and girls matter.
Well, yeah. That’s how it works. If the private Christian school doesn’t want to abide by the public entity’s rules, then they have no right to demand access to the benefits. They can form their own Christian Bigot league with all the other schools in the state that feel the same way.
To put it another way, the Christian school chose this route, not the state. The state was already being generous by giving the private school the ability to compete against other teams.
The 71-page lawsuit cites Supreme Court decisions (like Carson v. Makin) that said if a state offers certain benefits to public schools, they can’t deny those benefits to private (usually Christian) schools. But the lawsuit fails to note how, in response to the Makin case, Maine lawmakers passed a law forbidding any taxpayer dollars from going to schools that discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. In response, the anti-LGBTQ Christian schools said they would rather reject the benefits than follow the state’s rules.
In Vermont, however, the Christian school wants access to the state benefits without having to follow the state’s rules. You don’t have to be a lawyer to grasp how the situations aren’t identical.
The lawsuit also notes that the Vermont Agency of Education, in 2022, just like in Maine, passed laws requiring all private schools that wanted taxpayer-funded tuition dollars to obey non-discrimination laws. Mid Vermont Christian said no. So they were not designated as an “approved independent school.” That decision meant the Christian school couldn’t get access to public funds (specifically, the “State's Town Tuitioning and Dual Enrollment Programs”).
That’s why this lawsuit goes after state education officials as well as those running the athletic competitions. They even laid out their choices, as if both are impossible for them to adopt:
The State has thus put Plaintiffs to an impossible Hobson's Choice: (1) abandon their religious beliefs, character, and practices and adopt and follow the State's gender identity rules so they can participate in school athletics and the Town Tuitioning Program, or (2) adhere to their religious beliefs, character, and practices, miss out on middle school and high school sports, lose valuable tuition reimbursements, and inevitably lose students necessary to keep its doors open.
Once again, this is a “Hobson’s Choice” of the Christian school’s own making. They don’t get to eat their cake and have it, too. They want to discriminate against LGBTQ students and have access to state dollars. They can’t have both. They have to decide whether faith-based bigotry is more important to them than their own existence.
No one should feel bad for them. If that school didn’t want to compete for transphobic reasons, that was their call. They don’t deserve to be rewarded for it by continuing to have access to strong competition and an established league. Similarly, they shouldn’t have access to tuition dollars if they discriminate against LGBTQ students. They were never punished for their Christian beliefs; they were punished for refusing to adhere to rules that amount to nothing more than showing basic human decency.
The Christian school’s decision to put bigotry over competition ultimately hurts their own students, who will be deprived of the opportunity to showcase their skills and earn possible scholarships. But this school doesn’t really care about students anyway. After all, they took their Christian hatred out on an athlete on another team because she didn’t fit their rigid gender mold; we shouldn’t be surprised when their selfish actions affect their own students.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)