Our Role in Advocacy
As the leading national voice for Christian higher education, the CCCU aims to be an effective, respected, and honest advocate for Christ-centered higher education both in the United States and around the world. The CCCU’s advocacy is primarily centered in the United States, although we represent our international institutions to the U.S. governmental agencies as the need arises. In all circumstances, the CCCU advocates for the universal educational principles of accessibility, affordability, and accountability that are shared by both U.S. and international institutions. The CCCU is a non-partisan organization striving to work effectively with all political parties to advance the cause of Christ-centered education.
The CCCU believes that Christian higher education contributes in wonderful and unique ways to the good of the world and the United States. Primarily it is in our graduates, the programs on our campuses, and the writing and research that flow from the extraordinary faculty that makes the world a better place. CCCU institutions practice a coherent approach to education in which they seamlessly weave together the development of the mind, spirit, body, and emotions in the quest not just for knowledge, but also for wisdom and faithfulness. CCCU institutions train future leader who are deep thinkers and equipped doers, committed to working for the common good of their communities because of their faith in Jesus Christ.
The CCCU provides a unified voice to highlight the contributions of our institutions for the common good. We also advocate for the right of each of our institutions to practice their sincerely held religious beliefs. We uniquely position ourselves to speak to national leadership in the halls of Congress, the administration, and the courts on behalf of every individual Christian college and university that is part of our association.
For a summary of the CCCU’s advocacy each year, click here to review the annual report.
One way a nation flourishes is through a robust and healthy economy. CCCU institutions contribute significantly to the economic wellbeing of the United States.
Religious Freedom and Institutional Autonomy
The ability of CCCU institutions to educate according to their religious mission is crucial. All institutions in the U.S. must be accredited by an accrediting body to receive federal aid. In November 2019, the Department of Education issued final regulation 34 C.F.R. §§ 600, which, among other things, created a definition of religious mission and precludes accreditors from using as a negative factor in their accreditation decisions the religious-mission-based policies, decisions, and practices of an institution. Religious mission is defined as “a published institutional mission that is approved by the governing body of an institution of postsecondary education and that includes, refers to, or is predicated upon religious tenets, beliefs, or teachings.” The CCCU continues to advocate that Congress codify the updated regulations in the next Higher Education Act.
CCCU institutions stand united in their support of institutional autonomy and the principles of religious and associational rights that undergird it. This autonomy of mission is essential for each institution to be able to contribute to the larger higher education landscape in its unique way and thus comprises a foundational value of the CCCU. Since its founding, the CCCU has been a leader in advocating in the courts, to Congress, and within presidential administrations for the freedom of its institutions to exercise their First Amendment rights. These rights of religion, association, and speech ensure CCCU institutions can teach as well as maintain policies that are consistent with their religious beliefs and convictions while participating fully within the public square.
To view the CCCU’s Religious Freedom Toolkit, click here.
The CCCU is involved almost every year in cases before the Supreme Court of the United States. The Court’s rulings will impact Christian higher education’s ability to carry out its mission. The CCCU leads or joins amicus briefs as we see necessary to advance the long-term wellbeing of Christian higher education. We think the decisions made in the courts hold great power over the direction of the legislature. It is important to continue advocacy at all levels of the federal government to ensure that Christian colleges and universities are able to operate and serve their students well while aligning with their missions.
The Supreme Court ruled, in Bostock v. Clayton County on June 15, 2020, that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extends nondiscrimination rights of employment to LGBTQ workers; a landmark decision. The 6-3 majority ruled that firing an individual for their sexual orientation or gender identity goes against the text of the statute. As Justice Gorsuch writes in the majority opinion, “sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.” The Court addresses the importance of religious freedom protections by saying they are “deeply concerned with preserving the promise of the free exercise of religion enshrined in our Constitution; that guarantee lies at the heart of our pluralistic society.” While the religious freedom language is encouraging, it leaves questions unanswered. See the CCCU statement on the decision here.
In July 2020, the Supreme Court decided a pair of cases pertaining to the ministerial exception that will determine if the government can control those whom a church school hires to teach its religion classes. In a 7-2 decision, the Court decided, in Our Lady of Guadalupe, that the “ministerial exception” is not limited simply to those who have a title of minister or formal religious training. Rather, “what matters, at bottom, is what an employee does. And implicit in our decision in Hosanna-Tabor was a recognition that educating young people in their faith, inculcating its teachings, and training them to live their faith are responsibilities that lie at the very core of the mission of a private religious school” (p. 18).
The Court also affirmed appropriate deference to the institution to decide if an employee qualifies as a minister: “In a country with the religious diversity of the United States, judges cannot be expected to have a complete understanding and appreciation of the role played by every person who performs a particular role in every religious tradition. A religious institution’s explanation of the role of such employees in the life of the religion in question is important” (p. 22).
The Supreme Court ruled, in a 5-4 majority on June 18, 2020, that the Trump administration did not end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program legally. The court did not ultimately decide the fate of the program, rather ruling that the administration did not provide adequate reasoning for the rescission. The CCCU celebrates the protection of Dreamers, particularly students of Christian higher education who will be allowed to continue in their education. See the CCCU statement about the decision here.
In 2015, the Montana legislature created a program that granted a tax credit to those who donated to a student scholarship organization. The scholarship organization then used the donations to give scholarships to families to help offset the cost of private education. The Montana Department of Revenue excluded religious schools from the definition of educational provider to fit with the state’s no-aid (or Blaine) amendment, which prohibits public funds to “aid any church, school, academy, seminary, college, university, or other literary or scientific institution, controlled in whole or in part by any church, sect, or denomination” (p. 3).
Families who counted on the scholarships to attend private schools, including religious schools, sued to challenge the Montana Department of Revenue ruling. The state argued that the program violated the Blaine amendment because of the religious uses of the money, not the religious status of the schools. However, the Court found that “status-based discrimination remains status-based even if one of its goals or effects is preventing religious organizations from putting aid to religious uses” (p. 11). The Court went on to say that “the Free Exercise Clause protects against even ‘indirect coercion,’ and a State ‘punishe[s] the free exercise of religion’ by disqualifying the religious from government aid as Montana did here” (p. 11).
The CCCU, joined by ACSI, ERLC, NAE, and USCCB, among others, filed a brief along with Christian Legal Society arguing that denying a generally available benefit because of the religious nature of the school violates the First Amendment. The brief acknowledges that the Trinity Lutheran precedent left open the question of discrimination on the basis of religious uses, while it answered the question of religious status. We argue that “the status-use distinction collapses in the context of benefits for religiously grounded… education. Moreover, schools that go beyond mere religious affiliation to integrate religion into their secular subjects—and families who use those schools—do so because their religious identity permeates education. Whether called ‘belief or status’ or ‘use,’ [i]t is free exercise either way (p. 3).
In the last two decades, there has been a general cultural shift from the religious affirmations of generations ago to an increasing secular preference both for individuals and for civic expression in government. There have been numerous Supreme Court cases asking for clarification on the free exercise of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court speaks most consistently for religious expression when there is also underlying legislation. It is undisputed that there are and will be increasing clashes between progressive and conservative ideologies regarding the value of religious expression in the public square and the value of religious civic society. Consider the Supreme Court’s record under both Chief Justices Rehnquist and Roberts: for all cases that involved only First Amendment claims and not an accompanying statute, the Court has protected religious freedom only about 50 percent of the time—and that’s going all the way back to 1987. However, when there is an accompanying statute, the Court has protected religious freedom a little over 90% of the time, highlighting the importance of accompanying statutes. Download “The Supreme Court’s Religious Liberty Cases: Constitutional v. Statutory Claims.”
The United States practices what has been called “civic pluralism.” Civic pluralism is at its best when both majority and minority voices in the public square are protected. The minority voice can be the voice of faith or no faith at all. CCCU institutions are often seen as countercultural in their beliefs and represent values in line with Christian commitments. However, we also recognize that the world is not the Church, but instead a place of many viewpoints and that ultimately each person is accountable for their own actions before God. The sacred space of the church is distinct from the public space of the world.
Numerous pieces of legislation are introduced in Congress that impact religious organizations. One piece of legislation, the Equality Act, was passed in 2019 by the House of Representatives. If the Equality Act were signed into law as written in the 2019 bill, Christian higher education would be negatively impacted in these specific areas (though this is not an exhaustive list):
- Hiring according to religion, including religious standards of conduct, will be threatened by this Act. While there is a current religious protection in Title VII, courts may interpret it so narrowly that a school could make hiring decisions based only on whether the applicant professed to be a member of the same religion, regardless of whether the member actually followed the institution’s religious beliefs and teachings.
- Federal financial aid (such as Pell grants) will be jeopardized for any student seeking to attend a religious college or university whose religious teachings vary from the Equality Act. This penalty on middle- and low-income students would disproportionately impact religious students, first-generation college students, and students from racial and ethnic minority groups.
- Properties of religious schools will be treated as public accommodations (spaces). This would require the religious college to allow access to campus facilities to the general public, even to those who don’t comply with university religious standards. Additionally, the bill makes a place of “gathering” a public accommodation, which raises doubts about whether a house of worship or the sacred spaces on a college campus would now be governed by federal law.
- Federal research grants will be denied to any religious university that enforces religious conduct standards in its student admissions, continuing enrollment, and graduation decisions, even when they are the best qualified or most cost-effective institutions to conduct the research. Taxpayers lose when government must select from a smaller pool of applicants.
- The bill has no protection from the loss of federal or state tax-exempt status because of a religious organization’s lawful expressions or activities stemming from its beliefs regarding marriage, human sexuality, and gender. Loss of tax-exempt status would harm students directly, as scholarships, new classrooms, and athletic facilities are all funded through the generous donations of others.
- The bill guts the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), whose important balancing test ensures that the government is rightly protecting the religious rights of its citizens. Without this balancing test in place, LGBT rights will always trump an institution’s religious conscience rights, no matter how great the harm to religion.
We believe there is a better way. In the CCCU’s advocacy role, we employ a legislative strategy to address legislation that impacts Christian colleges and universities in a way that complements our court and executive branch strategies. One such strategic deployment was supporting the introduction by Representative Chris Stewart (R-UT-2) on December 6, 2019, of a bill called the Fairness for All Act (H.R.5331). Instead of the Equality Act, this bill is a comprehensive religious freedom bill that also recognizes the desire by LGBT Americans for civil rights protections. When non-religious people support the rights of the religious, we do not assume they are endorsing a particular religion; instead, they are endorsing the Constitution. Likewise, the endorsement of civil rights for all Americans does not imply endorsement for how individuals use the rights granted. Rather, Fairness for All reflects the belief that in a pluralistic society, people with different beliefs need to find a way to live together and that rights for one group should not result in an existential threat to the other.
On June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, concluded that discrimination because of sexual orientation or gender identity is necessarily discrimination on the basis of sex, thereby amending Title VII. This ruling established a substantial goal of the Equality Act by enacting by court ruling the concept of LGBT civil rights and civil rights in employment in particular. The Court’s ruling also addressed a goal of the Fairness for All Act by highlighting the importance of religious freedom protections, noting the Court is “deeply concerned with preserving the promise of the free exercise of religion enshrined in our Constitution; that guarantee lies at the heart of our pluralistic society.” The decision acknowledged religious freedom protections like Title VII “express statutory exception for religious organizations,” the ministerial exception, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but it did not discuss their application to the cases in Bostock. The Supreme Court’s decision recognized that there are many questions to be resolved, leaving great uncertainty. The legislative strategies of the CCCU continue to take into account the status of ongoing introduced legislation in both houses of Congress.
Select Media Coverage
Faith Angle Forum: Shirley Hoogstra & Tyler Deaton Discuss Fairness for All
Associated Press: GOP Rep. Pitches LGBTQ Rights Bill with Religious Exemptions
Christianity Today: LGBT Rights-Religious Liberty Bill Proposed in Congress
Christian colleges serve a high percentage of first-generation and lower-income students. A National Economic Impact Report of CCCU institutions found that one in three CCCU students are first generation college students, and 50% of CCCU students come from families that make less than $50,000 per year. As such, students attending our schools and their families depend upon financial aid both from our institutions and from federal and state governments. We work to ensure state and federal financial aid remains accessible to students for any kind of institution they want to attend. We seek to ensure that students from all socioeconomic backgrounds are able to attend a Christian college or university so that high-quality, Christ-centered education is available to all students — not just those who are part of a higher income bracket.
The CCCU supports and advocates for increases to the amount allocated for the Pell Grant Program. One in three CCCU students receive a Pell Grant, and these grants are vital to ensure low-income students have access to high quality education. 38.7 percent of CCCU undergrads are Pell recipients, a larger percentage than any comparison group. At the same time, our students’ 6.6% loan default and 77.6% five-year repayment rates are the best in higher education. CCCU institutions also have more “skin in the game,” allocating about $11,900 per student in institutional aid. College cost concerns have generated reform ideas such as completely tax-funded tuition, making colleges increase their “skin in the game” and consolidating aid into a one grant/one loan framework. The CCCU supports expanding Pell to year-round use, expanding the Second Chance Pell pilot program for incarcerated Americans, streamlining student aid, and smart simplification efforts that maintain institutional flexibility to serve the neediest students.
The CCCU understands the effect of tax reforms on Christian colleges and universities. We strive to ensure that policymakers consider nonprofits when creating reforms and to ensure that nonprofits are not equated to for-profits when it comes to different taxes. Nonprofits are inherently different; they do not seek a profit and should be treated accordingly. We also understand and advocate for incentivizing giving, especially for younger, beginner donors. Encouraging giving at a young age increases the likelihood that someone will continue to contribute to society as they get older.
The CCCU supports charitable giving at all levels for all individuals. Overall levels of giving have been decreasing according to the Giving USA Foundation, and a universal charitable deduction could help reverse this trend. Many private colleges and universities rely on charitable donations to provide aid to students and create sustainable programs for the future. Congress should incentivize giving from all people, not just those in a high-income bracket. The charitable deduction is a vital and unique incentive that encourages a selfless act. For every $1 subject to the charitable deduction, communities receive $3 in benefits (for more information: Charitable Giving Coalition). It is unlikely governments could find a better way to leverage private investment in community services. Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy has found that the percentage of Americans who give has fallen by 11% over the past 14 years—from 67% in 2002 to just 56% in 2014. The doubling of the standard deduction in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 accelerated this trend. We advocate for charitable giving incentives that encourage all donors to give generously to support the work of Christian higher education as well as other charitable organizations.
For the first time in over a century, the government started taxing nonprofit colleges, with little public awareness. The tax represents an overreach of the government: a source of revenue for the government to offset other tax cuts, rather than focus on helping college students. A study by the Education Trust estimates that 40% of restricted endowment funds are spent on student financial aid. Taking money away from the institution hurts students, and this tax should be repealed.
The 2017 Tax Cut & Jobs Act imposed new taxes on tax-exempt organizations by expanding the rules for Unrelated Business Income Taxation (UBIT). The CCCU worked hard alongside other organizations to get one of the provisions repealed nicknamed the “parking lot” tax, the provision imposed a 21% UBIT on the expenses that nonprofits incur for providing their employees with transportation benefits. But there is still more work to be done. Another provision in the act requires nonprofits to break down their revenues and expenses for every trade or business separately, preventing different areas of a nonprofit from balancing out losses/gains in another area. It is important to note that for-profit businesses are not required to do this “silo-ing”. The CCCU believes that, like the “parking lot” tax, this provision also needs to be repealed.
Department of Education & Other Regulatory Agencies
When it’s done well, federal regulation of higher education provides standards of excellence and promotes the collection and sharing of valuable and valid information about the performance of higher education in general and of specific institutions. However, federal regulation often becomes burdensome and overly detailed, and it can—intentionally or unintentionally—discriminate against certain types of educational institutions, including religious institutions. We support reasonable and cost-effective regulatory guidance and requirements that do not discriminate against Christian higher education, and we work closely with both Congress and the U.S. Department of Education on these issues.
The Department of Education requested comments on Section 117:
Section 117 of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA), as amended, requires certain institutions that participate in the Title IV student assistance programs to submit to the Secretary disclosure reports containing information about gifts received from any foreign source, contracts with a foreign entity, and any ownership interests in or control over the institution by a foreign entity.
We submitted comments on these regulations focusing on the prohibition of anonymous donors and suggesting other ways to ensure compliance without risking the identities of donors who might fear religious persecution in their country. It is important that the institutions be able to maintain the privacy of their donors. We believe the Department should not require institutions to divulge the identity of donors that request anonymity. If the Department does require that information, we believe our donors must be able to trust our government to maintain confidentiality; we do not want anyone persecuted for supporting a religious organization.
On May 6, 2020, the Department of Education issued final regulations under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance. Click here for a Department of Education summary of the regulations.
On September 23, 2020, the Department of Education published the long awaited “controlled by” language for religious institutions in the Improving Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities final rule.
Some background: Federal law provides that Title IX “shall not apply” to educational institutions that are “controlled by a religious organization,” to the extent that application of Title IX “would not be consistent with the religious tenets of such organization.” Some CCCU institutions have chosen to request the assurance of a religious exemption letter from the Department of Education and some have not. Those that choose to pursue the assurance letter have to be “controlled by a religious organization.” But the phrase “controlled by” has not been defined, which has led some institutions not governed by a denomination to experience a delay in receiving their Title IX exemption letter.
The new regulations include a list of non-exhaustive factors that help determine if an institution is controlled by a religious organization. Any of these are deemed “sufficient to establish that an educational institution is controlled by a religious organization … and is therefore eligible to assert a religious exemption”:
- The institution is a school or department of divinity.
- The institution requires faculty, students, or employees to be members of, engage in religious practices of, or espouse a personal belief in the religious organization by which it claims to be controlled.
- The institution’s charter, catalog, or other official publication contains an explicit statement that it is controlled by a religious organization or is committed to the doctrines or practices of a particular religion; the members of its governing body are appointed by the controlling religious organization; and it receives a significant amount of financial support from the controlling religious organization.
- The institution has a doctrinal statement or a statement of religious practices, along with a statement that members of the community must engage or espouse belief in the religious practices or doctrinal statement.
- The institution has a published institutional mission that is approved by the governing body of an educational institution and that includes, refers to, or is predicated upon religious tenets, beliefs, or teachings.
The final regulations also address three additional areas of importance:
- Promotes free speech at colleges and universities – This rule codifies President Trump’s executive order on free speech in March. For private colleges and universities, the rule will hold them accountable to their own policies on free speech. If a court determines the school violated its own policy, the regulations state that the Department of Education may engage in suspension or termination of federal awards or debarment.
- Ensures equal treatment of religious student groups – This rule is specifically for public colleges and universities and holds them accountable to give all rights and benefits to all student groups, including religious ones, regardless of beliefs, practices, speech, and membership and leadership standards.
- Revises regulations governing some discretionary grant programs under Titles III and V – Current regulations could prohibit a school from using such a grant for even secular activities or services such as teaching a course about world religions. The rule more narrowly tailors the prohibition on the use of these grants to religious instruction, religious worship, or proselytization. The rule also more narrowly defines a “school or department of divinity” to clarify that institutions are not prohibited from using grants for a secular department of religion.
The CCCU supports our institutions in their work to provide second chances and to advocate for restoration of Pell eligibility. Twenty-one CCCU institutions currently operate programs for the incarcerated. Research from the RAND Corporation shows education programs reduce recidivism; inmates participating in educational programs are 43% less likely to recidivate. RAND Corporation also discovered that a $1 investment in prison education reduces incarceration costs by $4 to $5 during the first three years post-release. The CCCU seeks the expansion of educational opportunity for all people, including incarcerated individuals.
The Department of Education started an experiment around Pell grants for incarcerated students called the Second Chance experiment. This program allows selected institutions to offer Pell grants to incarcerated students through their prison education program. The Department has gone through two rounds of applications. The first round Nyack College and North Park University were selected to take part in the experiment, and the second round Calvin University, Eastern University, and the University of the Southwest were selected to join the experiment. We are hoping that this experiment encourages Congress to support a repeal on the ban of Pell grants for incarcerated students. To read more about the CCCU’s prison education programs, click here.
The Restoring Education and Learning (REAL) Act was introduced in April 2019 and remains a legislative priority for the CCCU’s prison reform efforts. The bill would restore Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals, opening up education opportunities and access to higher education.
Our institutions work in a wide variety of ways to follow the biblical commands to care for those who live on the margins and in the forgotten areas of society—including those who want to pursue higher education but are in the United States illegally through no fault or decision of their own. Along with our friends on the Evangelical Immigration Table, we support bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform that:
- Respects the God-given dignity of every person;
- Protects the unity of the immediate family;
- Respects the rule of law;
- Guarantees secure national borders;
- Ensures fairness to taxpayers; and
- Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents.
Dreamers are young people brought to the U.S. illegally and are undocumented through no fault of their own. Dreamers and DACA recipients are valuable contributors on CCCU campuses, and we support a permanent solution to secure certainty for them and their communities. Almost 700,000 recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are protected to work and study in the U.S., contributing billions to the economy. A bipartisan, permanent policy will provide certainty for these individuals and allow our CCCU students who are undocumented to continue their education, ultimately using their talents to serve the kingdom of God without fear of deportation.
Along with our partners at the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT), we are working toward permanent bipartisan immigration reform. Our approach is driven by biblical principles and our belief that each person is made in the image of God, deserving of dignity. There is also a need for safety, security, and the rule of law. The EIT’s Evangelical Call for Restitution-Based Immigration Reform invites Christians to advocate for solutions that strengthen the law, have a process of restitution, and create a pathway for immigrants, including Dreamers. See more information about the restitution-based approach here, as well as a sign-on letter to call Congress to resolve the problems in our immigration system.
CCCU institutions are made better because of the contributions of their international students, who bring creativity, diverse perspectives, and brilliance to each campus. These individuals come to the United States to receive a high quality, Christ-centered education and are invaluable members of our communities and economy. The CCCU supports policies and regulations that allow for students to continue to come to the U.S. for higher education, as well as the continuation of post-graduate programs such as the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program. This allows for temporary employment of F-1 visa students and for them to work, train, and develop in their field of interest.
Joy Mosley, M.B.A., J.D.
Senior Director of Government Relations
Joy Elizabeth Mosley is the Director of Government Relations. She graduated from and subsequently worked at Covenant College for over ten years, where she was the Senior Human Resources Partner, before departing for law school. She received her Master of Business Administration from Belhaven University, and Doctor of Law from Emory University. While at Emory, her academic work on critical issues in higher education led to her co-authoring a forthcoming book by Harvard University Press. On the Hill, she worked for Congressman Gary Palmer and the Center for Public Justice before coming to the CCCU. She is married to J. Paul Mosley, a medical technology entrepreneur in the cardiothoracic space, and an Infantry Officer in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. Joy enjoys reading, kayaking, and baking.
Jacob Dunlap, M.P.P.
Jacob Dunlap is the Legislative Assistant for the CCCU. Prior to joining the CCCU, Jacob worked as the Program Coordinator on the SALUS Team at the Homeland Security Advisory Council in Los Angeles, California. Jacob earned his Master of Public Policy from Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy, specializing in American Policy & Politics and International Relations & National Security. In April 2019, Jacob was published by the Pepperdine Policy Review for a research paper on the connection between mass shootings and domestic violence. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, with minors in National Security and Sociology, from Grove City College of Grove City, Pennsylvania. Outside of work, Jacob enjoys playing chess, basketball, reading, and spending time with family.
Government Relations Fellow
Camille Messer is the Government Relations Fellow. She attended Covenant College as a Maclellan Scholar where she studied Economics with a particular interest in Community Development. While at Covenant, she served as the Student Body Vice-President, interned for three years at Canaan Group & Associates, a fundraising consulting firm on Lookout Mountain, Georgia, and completed a summer internship in the US House of Representatives. She is currently a Falls Church Fellow, in Falls Church, VA. In her free time, she enjoys running, reading a good novel, and writing letters to friends.