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Photo: John Lamparski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Justice Department said in a court filing this week it is capable of defending an exemption in federal law allowing federally-funded religious schools to discriminate against LGBTQ students.

Why it matters: The DOJ is beholden to defending federal laws, but the filing, which initially said the department could "vigorously" defend the exemption, angered some LGBTQ advocates who said it conflicted with the Biden administration's pledge to protect LGBTQ rights.

  • Of note: An amended filing on Wednesday omitted the word, "vigorously," and some of the other language in the initial filing that LGBTQ advocates had criticized.

Driving the news: Forty LGBTQ students at conservative religious colleges and universities are suing the government for providing funding to schools with anti-LGBTQ policies.

  • "The Plaintiffs seek safety and justice for themselves and for the countless sexual and gender minority students whose oppression, fueled by government funding, and unrestrained by government intervention, persists with injurious consequences to mind, body and soul," the March lawsuit reads.
  • The schools claim First Amendment rights but sought to intervene in May, arguing that the Biden administration "may be openly hostile to" the schools and cannot be trusted to adequately defend the religious exemption.

What they're saying: In its amended filing Wednesday, the DOJ rejected those concerns and said the Education Department's "objective is to defend the constitutionality of the statutory exemption."

  • The filing noted the Department of Education is currently reviewing regulations related to discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, but "until that process is complete, it would be premature to conclude that the government is an inadequate representative" in the case.
  • The motion does not touch on the merits of the case. The DOJ declined to comment on the case beyond the filings.

"My clients feel betrayed by an administration [that] promised to protect LGBTQ+ students," Paul Carlos Southwick, director of the Religious Exemption Accountability Project which represents the students, told CNN about the initial filing.

  • "The Biden administration did not need to defend this unconstitutional religious exemption," he added.
  • In an email to Axios, Southwick said that while the amended filing "removes some of the most extreme language," the Justice Department's commitment to defending the exemption is "in conflict" with the Biden administration's pledge to protect LGBTQ rights.

Some experts say, however, that the DOJ is simply carrying out its obligation to defend federal laws.

  • Failing to do so "would amount to the nuclear option, one that presidents typically resort to only when they are convinced a law is blatantly, invidiously unconstitutional," writes Slate courts reporter Mark Joseph Stern.
  • The DOJ's filing is also an attempt to "prevent a Christian organization from taking over the defense and mounting extreme arguments that could lead to a devastating subversion of civil rights law," Stern adds.

Go deeper

Updated Jun 8, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden's DOJ defends Trump in E. Jean Carroll's defamation lawsuit

Combination images of former President Trump and E. Jean Carroll. Photo: Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images/Eva Deitch for The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Biden's Department of Justice indicated in a court filing Monday night that it's continuing with the DOJ's defense of former President Trump in a defamation lawsuit brought by writer E. Jean Carroll.

Why it matters: When President Biden was a presidential candidate last year, he criticized the DOJ's highly unusual move to intervene and replace Trump's private lawyers with attorneys from the department, per the New York Times.

Democrats urge DOJ not to defend Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) in the Rayburn House Office Building on June 4. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland Wednesday demanded that the Department of Justice reverse its decision to continue defending former President Trump in a defamation lawsuit brought by writer E. Jean Carroll.

Why it matters: The members said the continuation "seems profoundly misguided" and requested that the department provide an explanation for its decision.

Pacific Northwest soon to be ground zero for record-shattering heat

Computer model projection showing the unusually strong heat dome over the Pacific Northwest on Sunday. (PivotalWeather).

A heat wave is bringing unprecedented high temperatures to the Pacific Northwest — a region of the country typically cooled by the ocean, rather than central air conditioning. The heat will begin Friday and last into early next week.

Why it matters: The heat wave will shatter monthly and all-time temperature records in the Pacific Northwest. Some of the records could break the old milestones by several degrees.