Trump, Betsy DeVos go to bat for religious student groups

The rule would require public and private institutions to treat religious student organizations fairly in order to keep federal grant money.

The U.S. Department of Education has proposed a new rule aimed at protecting religious freedom.

A newly proposed rule by the U.S. Department of Education would require public and private universities to treat religious student organizations the same as they would any other student organization or risk losing government grant funding. 

”Student organizations, including faith-based student organizations, play an important role at public institutions of higher education. Their First Amendment rights, including the freedom of association, must also be protected. Accordingly, the proposed regulations require that, as a material condition of a direct grant or a subgrant from a state-administered formula grant program, a public institution of higher education not deny to a faith-based student organization any of the rights, benefits, or privileges otherwise afforded to non-faith-based student organizations,” the Department of Education said in a news release issued Thursday. 

The proposed rule would also require “private institutions that receive a Direct Grant or subgrant from a State-Administered Formula Grant program of the Department to comply with their stated institutional policies on freedom of speech, including academic freedom, as a material condition of the grant.”

[RELATED: Iowa bill aims to protect belief-based student groups]

The Department of Education’s announcement is part of the implementation of President Donald Trump’s 2018 executive order which sought to help faith-based organizations “compete on a level playing field for grants, contracts, programs, and other Federal funding opportunities.”

That executive order came just months after Trump issued an executive order tying campus free speech to federal research dollars. 

”Our actions today will protect the constitutional rights of students, teachers, and faith-based institutions. The Department’s efforts will level the playing field between religious and non-religious organizations competing for federal grants, as well as protect First Amendment freedoms on campus and the religious liberty of faith-based institutions. I proudly share President Trump’s commitment to religious freedom and the First Amendment,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Thursday. 

Campus Reform has reported on a number of cases in which religious student organizations have alleged discrimination by colleges. 

[RELATED: Faith under fire? Christian student groups go to war with higher ed.]

In Iowa, for example, a federal court held University of Iowa employees personally liable for allegedly violating a Christian student organization’s First Amendment rights. And, at Duke University, a Christian student organization was denied registered status after the student government learned of its prohibition on LGBT individuals holding leadership positions because of the group’s religious beliefs regarding homosexuality. 

The conservative nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom reacted to this “extremely encouraging news.” 

”The President’s announcement makes it clear: People of faith are not second-class citizens. And religious freedom must be respected and protected,” the organization said in a statement

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