Florida Christian School Sues Biden and State Ag Commissioner Over Title IX-Lunch Ties

Florida Christian School Sues Biden and State Ag Commissioner Over Title IX-Lunch Ties
Students eating lunch at Grant Park Christian Academy in May 2022 (Courtesy: Grant Park Christian Academy)

PUNTA GORDA, Fla.–A Tampa Christian school filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration and Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner, arguing that revised federal regulations on discrimination would force the school to make an “untenable choice: violate its religious beliefs or stop providing lunches to children.”

A 93-page lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida on July 27.  Named as defendants, in addition to Florida Agriculture Commissioner and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Nikki Fried and President Joe Biden, were Secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack, Chief of the Bureau of Child Nutrition Program Lisa Church, and Senior Management Analyst for the Florida Department of Agriculture Nedra Harrington.

The Christian school with a student population of 56, and growing, contends in the lawsuit that the expanded federal anti-discrimination policy regarding sexual orientation and gender identity is “threatening” its ability to feed hungry children” and punishing low-income children by “taking away their school lunches–simply because they attend Christian schools.”

Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative group, is representing the school and it maintains that the new policies will result in its students being denied access to free and nutritious lunches.

“All the children at Grant Park Christian Academy come from low-income families who fall below the federal poverty threshold and they’re entitled to receive funding for their education,” attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom, Erica Steinmiller-Perdomo said in a released statement.

The school is private but participates in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National School Lunch Program, which provides federal funding to supply free lunches to families whose annual income falls below the poverty level.

In May, the USDA announced it would require compliance of all schools receiving federal aid for the lunch program to its revised regulations under Title IX, a law enacted in 1972 to prevent discrimination on the basis of sex by educational programs that receive federal dollars.

“That’s no problem for Grant Park Christian Academy—the school never excludes or discriminates against any student because of sex,” the lawsuit states.

However, the lawsuit says the revised regulations expand the definition of “sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity, which would prohibit the school from participating in the federal program to feed their underserved students.

The lawsuit also said the new regulations would prevent the school from having sex-specific restrooms, violate dress code policy, and require students to use “preferred pronouns.”

“The Biden administration is ignoring the law and forcing this wonderful school to make an untenable choice: violate its religious beliefs or stop providing lunches to children,” Steinmiller-Perdomo, continued in her press release.

In its mission statement, Grant Park Christian Academy seeks to “ensure that every child is educated and loved.”  Part of that mission, according to the school, is “feeding its students; all of whom qualify for federal food aid.”

The lawsuit goes on to state that the school’s curriculum is based “on the biblical worldview about marriage, sexuality, and the human person,” and defines marriage as being a union between “one man and one woman” as “delineated by Scripture,” and deviating from one’s biological sex “goes against God.”

However, Title IX provides an exemption for schools under the auspices of a religious organization if application of the law would be “inconsistent with [its] religious tenets.”

The lawsuit contends that Fried’s office said in an email that the school “must comply with all federal program regulations” if they want to participate in the lunch program.

In an email from Florida’s Bureau of Child Nutrition Programs, sent by Lisa Church to the school’s director, she said that “in order to receive federal funding all participating schools must comply with all federal regulations in the National School Lunch Program.”

Erin Moffet, director of communications for the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, told The Epoch Times in an email that “We just received the papers on Friday (July 29) so we are still reviewing the litigation and don’t have (an) additional comment at this time.”

Fried said at a press conference on July 29 that the issue was a federal one and the lawsuit appears to be a politically motivated step by supporters of Gov. Ron DeSantis and his administration.

“I’m not blindsided because we heard about the lawsuit before we actually got served this morning,” Fried said. “So, this is definitely a collaborative action from the governor’s office and what is happening in this lawsuit.”

During the question-and-answer session, Fried was pressed to answer if she would withhold school lunch money if schools were “out of compliance” with the guidance.

“In order for us the Department of Agriculture to continue doing our job, we and our providers must continue to adhere to federal laws and regulations,” she said. “But make no mistake about this, I will do everything possible to ensure that Florida’s kids are not victimized by the DeSantis administration and denied their meals.”

Grant Park Christian Academy opened in 2015 and educates students from Pre-K to eighth grade. All students’ families are below the federal poverty level and qualify to receive free lunches, according to the court document.

On its website, Alliance Defending Freedom describes itself as “the world’s largest legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, the sanctity of life, parental rights, and God’s design.”

The group filed the lawsuit on the same day as 22 other state attorneys general filed similar lawsuits.

The Epoch Times contacted the other named defendants, as well as the office of the president, for comment but received no response by press time.