FILE- A sign marks the entrance to a gender-neutral restroom at the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vermont.
FILE- A sign marks the entrance to a gender-neutral restroom at the University of Vermont in Burlington, Vermont.

WASHINGTON - Conservative critics are sharply attacking a new edict from President Barack Obama's administration that transgender students in the United States be allowed to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity.

"Texas is fighting this," declared Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a long-time Obama opponent.  "Obama can't rewrite the Civil Rights Act.  He's not a king."

Another state leader, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, said, "I recommend that school districts disregard (Obama's) 'guidance' on gender identification in schools."

The country's Justice and Education departments last week issued what they described as a "guidance" to thousands of school districts around the country on how to treat transgender students and to deal with questions of what bathrooms they should use.

The order came just days after the Justice Department and the eastern U.S. state of North Carolina sued each other over enforcement of a law in that state requiring transgender people use bathrooms that conform to their gender at birth.

The country's top law enforcement official, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, said, "There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex."

Guidance for some, overreach for others

Under the U.S. political system, many educational issues are decided at the state level of government, and more specifically by local school boards that govern schools in their communities.

"This guidance gives administrators, teachers, and parents the tools they need to protect transgender students from peer harassment and to identify and address unjust school policies," Lynch said.

But conservative leaders and lawmakers in the United States have long chafed at federal government orders issued during the seven-plus years Obama has been president as over-reaching control by Washington on policies they believe should be decided at the state or local level.

Luther Strange, the attorney general in the southern state of Alabama, vowed to fight what he called the "absurd" Obama order.

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin said Obama "is intentionally dividing America by threatening to sue or withhold funding from our cash-strapped public schools if they do not agree with his personal opinion on policies that remain squarely in their jurisdiction.  They should not feel compelled to bow to such intimidation."

A prominent conservative Christian evangelist, Franklin Graham, said, "Who does President Barack Obama think he is?  The sultan of Washington?  Does he think he can just make a ‘decree’ and we will bow down and simply obey?  What about the privacy and protection of all the other students? Isn’t this discrimination against all of them?"

"This opens up bathrooms to sexual predators and perverts," Graham said.

The White House is defending the new mandate, with Obama spokesman Josh Earnest saying, "The foundation of this guidance is that people should not be discriminated against just because of who they are."