BREAKING: Committee calls on Dept. of Ed to protect free speech rights for religious student orgs
'This proposed rule should be swept into the dustbin and dispensed with – and the Department knows it,' Committee Chair Dr. Foxx told Campus Reform
In response to a recent Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) from the Department of Education (DOEd), the Committee on Education and The Workforce has sent a letter to Secretary Miguel Cardona stating its opposition to the latest proposal, dubbed “Direct Grant Programs, State-Administered Formula Grant Programs,” which could overturn 2020 regulations that protect religious student groups at public institutes of higher education.
A copy of the letter was obtained by Campus Reform.
“We write to comment on the Department of Education’s ('ED') Notice of Proposed Rulemaking ('NPRM'), which would rescind free speech and free exercise of religious protections provided to religious student organizations at public institutions of higher education,” the letter opens.
The DOEd’s late February NPRM could roll back protections granted to religious student organizations through the Religious Liberty and Free Inquiry rule that the DOEd passed in late 2020.
The September 2020 regulation ensured “equal treatment of religious student organizations.”
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Among many clarifications made in the 2020 regulation, the most notable was that public institutions of higher education could not deny benefits or privileges to religious student organizations that would otherwise be afforded to other student organizations, the DOEd summarized in the Federal Register.
The DOEd “proposes to rescind the regulations because they are not necessary to protect the First Amendment right to free speech and free exercise of religion; have created confusion among institutions; and prescribe an unduly burdensome role for the Department to investigate allegations regarding [institutions of higher education’s] treatment of religious student organizations.”
The committee argues, however, that the latest “NPRM gives conflicting reasons why the current religious student organization protections … should be rescinded.”
On the one hand, the NPRM argues that IHEs are already required to protect the free exercise of religion and thus that ‘rescinding these regulations would not affect those requirements.’ On the other hand, the NPRM describes the Free Inquiry rule as ‘burdensome’ and ‘confusing,’ with the risk of reducing “institutions’ ability to set individualized policies that protect First Amendment freedoms and reflect the diversity of institutional contexts and missions.’ Since the Free Inquiry rule’s protections are grounded in the First Amendment, the additional protections in the current rule should not be confusing to institutions as the NPRM claims. In fact, the NPRM contains no specific examples to support its claims of confusion or burden.
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Committee Chair Dr. Foxx told Campus Reform, “The Department of Education’s proposed rule to nix protections for religious student organizations at public institutions of higher education is contemptible.”
“Every student, no matter their faith, should know that the sacred rights of free speech and free exercise of religion are protected and not subject to brazen attacks by those who seek to trample on the First Amendment. This proposed rule should be swept into the dustbin and dispensed with – and the Department knows it," she concluded.
The DOEd has been contacted for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.
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