Updated March 8, 2021
Title IX generally prohibits a recipient institution from excluding, separating, denying benefits to, or otherwise treating students differently on the basis of sex in its educational programs or activities unless expressly authorized to do so under Title IX. Title IX and its implementing regulations contain several exemptions and exceptions from its coverage, including for the membership practices of certain organizations and admissions to private undergraduate colleges.
As described in more detail below, the Title IX regulations offer a process by which an educational institution can inform OCR that it is claiming a religious exemption by submitting a written statement to the Assistant Secretary for assurance that OCR acknowledges the institution’s exemption. No similar process exists in the regulations for any other exemption. An institution’s exempt status is not dependent upon its submission of a written statement to OCR.
Additional information on exemptions from Title IX’s coverage can be found below.
Links to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and its implementing regulations:
Note that some of the documents linked on this page were not generated by the Department of Education, or are scanned copies of older Departmental documents. Each document generated by the Department after January 1, 2009 is a PDF that contains, at a minimum, machine readable text. If you are a person with a disability who cannot fully access the contents of a document on this page, please contact OCR@ed.gov
Title IX’s prohibition on discrimination in admissions applies only to institutions of vocational education, professional education, and graduate higher education, and to public institutions of undergraduate higher education. 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a)(1); 34 C.F.R. § 106.15. The prohibition on discrimination in admissions does not apply to private undergraduate colleges. All other programs and activities of private undergraduate colleges (including single-sex colleges) are governed by Title IX if the college receives any Federal financial assistance.
Title IX’s prohibition on discrimination in admissions applies only to institutions of vocational education, professional education, and graduate higher education, and to public institutions of undergraduate higher education. 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a)(1); 34 C.F.R. § 106.15. A public school district therefore may offer a nonvocational single-sex school so long as it provides a substantially equal school to students of the excluded sex. All other programs and activities of public schools (including single-sex schools) are governed by Title IX if the school district receives any Federal financial assistance.
Public elementary and secondary schools are also subject to the sex discrimination prohibitions of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the requirements of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974.
Title IX does not apply to an educational institution that is controlled by a religious organization to the extent that application of Title IX would be inconsistent with the religious tenets of the organization. 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a)(3); 34 C.F.R. § 106.12(a).
- How can a religious school get assurance from OCR that it is exempt from certain provisions of Title IX?
The Department’s Title IX regulations provide that, if an educational institution wishes to claim an exemption, the highest ranking official of the institution submit a written statement to the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, identifying the provisions of Title IX that conflict with a specific tenet of the religious organization. A claim for a religious exemption may be mailed to the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at 400 Maryland Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20202, or emailed to OCR@ed.gov. See 34 C.F.R. § 106.12(b).
- Is a religious school required to submit a written statement to OCR in advance of claiming a religious exemption?
No. The regulation does not require that a recipient institution submit a written claim of exemption. Primarily, the written claim or “request” for exemption from an institution is a request for assurance from OCR of exemptions to certain sections of the regulation. Religious institutions that have neither sought nor received prior written assurance from OCR may still invoke their exemption after OCR receives a Title IX complaint. See 34 C.F.R. § 106.12(b). For an earlier memo describing the same practice, see AAS Smith Memo (Oct. 1989).
- How does OCR evaluate a written statement claiming a religious exemption?
In responding to a written statement claiming a religious exemption, OCR evaluates whether the statement complies with the regulatory requirement to identify the religious organization that controls the educational institution and specify the provisions of Title IX or its regulations that conflict with the tenets of the religious organization. See 34 C.F.R. § 106.12(c).
- How does an educational institution establish that it is “controlled” by a religious organization?
Any of the following is sufficient to establish that an educational institution is controlled by a religious organization:
(1) That the educational institution is a school or department of divinity.
(2) That the educational institution requires its faculty, students, or employees to be members of, or otherwise engage in religious practices of, or espouse a personal belief in, the religion of the organization by which it claims to be controlled.
(3) That the educational institution, in its charter or catalog, or other official publication, contains an explicit statement that it is controlled by a religious organization or an organ thereof, or is committed to the doctrines or practices of a particular religion, and the members of its governing body are appointed by the controlling religious organization or an organ thereof, and it receives a significant amount of financial support from the controlling religious organization or an organ thereof.
(4) That the educational institution has a doctrinal statement or a statement of religious practices, along with a statement that members of the institution community must engage in the religious practices of, or espouse a personal belief in, the religion, its practices, or the doctrinal statement or statement of religious practices.
(5) That the educational 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.
(6) Other evidence sufficient to establish that an educational institution is controlled by a religious organization, pursuant to 20 U.S.C. 1681(a)(3). See 34 C.F.R. § 106.12(c).
- How does OCR determine whether a provision of Title IX conflicts with religious tenets?
OCR asks an institution to specify the provisions of Title IX or the Title IX regulation from which an institution is seeking exemption and the religious tenets that conflict with those provisions. OCR ensures that the institution has cited the correct sections of the regulation in its request or, if needed, clarifies which sections of the regulation are applicable to an institution’s exemption request. A school claiming an exemption may refer to scripture, doctrinal statements, catalogs, statements of faith, or other documents reflecting religious tenets. To avoid possible constitutional entanglements and expedite OCR’s processing of these requests, an institution may submit a statement of its practices, as based on its religious tenets, rather than a statement of its tenets. See AAS Smith Memo (Oct. 1989); AS Singleton Memo (Aug. 1985).
- Where can I find other records related to OCR’s process for evaluating religious exemptions?
The following documents describe OCR’s process dating back to 1977:
- Acting Assistant Secretary William L. Smith Memo to OCR Senior Staff re Title IX Religious Exemption Procedures and Instructions for Investigating Complaints at Institutions with Religious Exemptions (Oct. 11, 1989) PDF 907.5K
- Assistant Secretary Harry M. Singleton Memo to Regional Civil Rights Directors re Title IX Religious Exemptions (Aug. 2, 1985) PDF 2.9M
- Assistant Secretary Harry M. Singleton Memo to Regional Civil Rights Directors re Policy Guidance for Resolving Religious Exemption Requests (Feb. 19, 1985) PDF 2.8M
- Assurance of Compliance with Title IX, HEW Form 639-A (Mar. 18, 1977) PDF 617.4K
Additional records, including correspondence with schools, can be found at the Other Correspondence page.
Title IX does not apply to an educational institution the primary purpose or which is the training of individuals for the military services of the United States or the merchant marine. 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a)(4); 34 C.F.R. § 106.13.
Title IX does not apply to the membership practices of a social fraternity or social sorority if the active membership consists primarily of students in attendance at an institution of higher education and the fraternity or sorority is exempt from taxation under the Internal Revenue Code. 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a)(6)(A); 34 C.F.R. § 106.14(a). All other programs and activities of social fraternities and sororities are governed by Title IX if they receive any Federal financial assistance.
Professional fraternities and sororities and service and honor societies are subject to the requirements of Title IX and may not exclude members on the basis of sex. 34 C.F.R. § 106.31(b)(7). An affirmative answer to any of the following questions is evidence that the organization is professional, service, or honorary in nature and not a social fraternity or sorority for Title IX purposes.
(1) Is the organization’s membership limited to persons pursuing or having interest in a particular field of study, profession, or academic discipline?
(2) Is the membership limited to individuals who have a high level of achievement in scholarship or any other endeavor?
(3) Are the members permitted to hold membership in other fraternities or sororities at the same level of education?
For more information on OCR’s process for evaluating the exemption for social fraternities or sororities, see Acting Assistant Secretary William L. Smith’s Memo to Senior Staff re Social Fraternities and Sororities and Title IX Exemptions PDF (May 31, 1989). OCR’s regulations do not provide a process for a fraternity or sorority to inform OCR that it is claiming its membership practices are exempt because it is a social fraternity or sorority.
Title IX does not apply to the membership practices of the Young Men’s Christian Association, Young Women’s Christian Association, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Camp Fire Girls. 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a)(6)(B); 34 C.F.R. § 106.14(b). All other programs and activities these organizations are governed by Title IX if they receive any Federal financial assistance.
Title IX does not apply to the membership practices of voluntary youth service organizations. 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a)(6)(B); 34 C.F.R. § 106.14(c). All other programs and activities of voluntary youth service organizations are governed by Title IX if they receive any Federal financial assistance.
In order to qualify for this exemption, membership in the organization must be voluntary, traditionally limited to members of one sex, and principally limited to persons under nineteen years old. A voluntary youth service organization also must facilitate public service opportunities for its members.
As part of its broad prohibition on sex discrimination, Title IX prohibits schools from aiding or perpetuating discrimination by providing significant assistance to any outside organization that discriminates on the basis of sex in providing any aid, benefit, or service to students or employees. Because of the exemption, however, school districts may provide significant assistance to a voluntary youth service organization. If the school does so, it has a Title IX obligation to ensure girls and boys have comparable educational opportunities overall.
For more information on this exemption, see OCR’s Dear Colleague Letter on Voluntary Youth Service Organizations (December 15, 2015).
Title IX does not apply to any program or activity of the American Legion undertaken in connection with the organization or operation of any Boys State conference, Boys Nation conference, Girls State conference, or Girls Nation conference; or any program or activity of any secondary school or educational institution specifically for the promotion of any Boys State conference, Boys Nation conference, Girls State conference, or Girls Nation conference or the selection of students to attend any such conference. 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a)(7).