A private school in Florida will receive funding to serve free meals to 56 low-income students despite Grant Park Christian Academy’s refusal of the Biden administration’s expanded Title IX definitions involving sexual orientation and gender identity, or SOGI, its lawyer said Monday.
Classes — and daily meals for the students — begin Wednesday, the day a federal lawsuit was to gain a hearing, which is now on hold.
The move comes days after the school sued federal and state officials met to discuss the rules requiring SOGI definitions apply to Grant Park’s restrooms, dress codes, pronouns and hiring.
The school said its religious beliefs, “including its understanding of the nature of the human person and marriage and family,” wouldn’t allow this.
The school received money under the National School Lunch Program, which subsidizes meals and snacks. The Agriculture Department funds the program, administered in Florida by agriculture commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat.
On July 31, the school sued Ms. Fried, President Biden, Agriculture Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack, and the USDA, along with two Florida agriculture officials, claiming the officials were “punishing low-income children” with a mandate the school could not follow.
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In a filing at the Tampa Division of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, attorneys representing the federal and state agency defendants said last Friday the school’s application would be approved, and that the USDA “issued a written letter confirming the school’s religious exemption” to the Title IX rules.
The filing also stated Florida agriculture officials would “respect that religious exemption” and informed the school of this. If any additional issues are found “in dispute,” the parties will let the court know, the filing indicated.
“It shouldn’t have taken a lawsuit to get the government to respect religious freedom,” said Erica Steinmiller-Perdomo, ADF legal counsel, in a statement. “Grant Park Christian Academy treats every child with dignity and respect and never turns away a hungry child. … We will defend other public and private schools across the country who remain under the burden of this unlawful mandate that violates religious beliefs.”
The pastor whose ministry runs the school expressed appreciation for the decision.
“Our kids depend on our school’s lunch program to eat balanced, nutritious meals and we’re breathing a sigh of relief that we can continue this vital outreach to the Grant Park community,” said Pastor Alfred Johnson, president of Faith Action Ministry Alliance, the academy’s parent organization, in a statement.
The Washington Times has reached out to Florida agricultural officials for comment.