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Update: August 15, 2022 - The USDA issued Grant Park Christian Academy a letter granting an assurance of exemption to the new department requirements, and Commissioner Fried's office immediately approved the school's application for funding. While this is a victory for the school, the Biden administration's unlawful mandate continues to threaten school lunch programs across the country.
For children from low-income families and underprivileged neighborhoods, lunch at school may be the most nutritious meal they eat all day.
Thankfully, there are federal programs in place to ensure that these kids can access breakfast, lunch, and a snack at school, no matter which school they attend.
One school that has received such federal assistance is Grant Park Christian Academy in Tampa, Florida.
But with the Biden administration redefining Title IX, the children’s ability to receive their lunches was in jeopardy.
Grant Park Christian Academy empowers families and the community to develop each child’s individual and unique gifts through academics and a strong foundation in Christ Jesus, which brings honor and glory to God. Students receive daily instruction in biblical teaching and attend weekly chapel services.
Grant Park Christian Academy also serves an underprivileged community. In fact, every student at the school comes from a low-income family. Many of the kids come from single-parent homes.
For these children and their families, federal and state assistance is critical for the education and nourishment of their children.
That’s where the school lunches come in.
All the families at Grant Park Christian Academy fall under the federal poverty threshold for receiving free meals at school. And thanks to the school’s participation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program, their children can benefit from nutritious meals at school.
Ever since it first applied for the National School Lunch Program in 2017, Grant Park Christian Academy has received USDA funding for school meals. And that’s a big deal. Without that funding, Grant Park would not be able to cover meals for its students.
When schools participate in the school lunch program, they are subject to Title IX, which means their programs and activities cannot discriminate against people on the basis of sex.
So the question is: what is sex?
While the answer should be clear, the Biden administration has sought to redefine sex to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
Grant Park Christian Academy treats every student with dignity and respect, no matter what. But the school cannot abandon its religious beliefs about human sexuality—that God made us male and female. Furthermore, as a religious institution that adheres to these traditional Christian beliefs, the school is exempt from Title IX.
So Grant Park Christian Academy contacted the office of Nikki Fried, Florida’s commissioner of agriculture and consumer services, who is responsible for administering the National School Lunch Program at the state level.
In response, the school received an email from Commissioner Fried's office stating that “participating schools must comply with all federal program regulations.” The only other option offered was to leave the program.
The meaning behind that message was clear: to receive federal funding, Grant Park Christian Academy had to comply with all federal regulations in the National School Lunch Program—and that Commissioner Fried was not recognizing any exemption.
Grant Park Christian Academy had no choice but to file a lawsuit against Fried.
The government cannot force a religious institution to abandon its deeply held beliefs. That violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
More to the point, if the USDA had not speedily approved Grant Park Christian Academy’s request for an exemption, dozens of children would have been deprived of their school lunches. And the school could have even faced closing its doors to the needy children in its community.
While Commissioner Fried and the Biden administration eventually granted the school’s religious exemption and approved its application for funding, it took an ADF lawsuit for them to do so.
“It shouldn’t have taken a lawsuit to get the government to respect religious freedom,” said ADF Legal Counsel Erica Steinmiller-Perdomo. “We will defend other public and private schools across the country who remain under the burden of this unlawful mandate that violates religious beliefs.”
Lunch is back on the menu for students attending religious schools nationwide. But it shouldn't have taken a lawsuit to get the government to let Grant Park Christian Academy and other religious schools feed their students.
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