Equal Protection Project Files Opposition to Biden Education Dept. Rule Rescinding Trump-Pence Campus Religious Protections
Proposal would remove Trump-Pence era regulation mandating that higher education treat campus religious groups and secular groups equally
As we have previously reported, in September 2020 the Trump-Pence administration implemented the “Free Inquiry Rule” for higher education: DeVos Makes Federal Grant Money Contingent Upon Compliance With First Amendment
This rule, which is still in effect, is designed to “ensure that public institutions of higher education uphold fundamental rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and that private institutions of higher education adhere to their own policies regarding freedom of speech, including academic freedom:”
“This administration is committed to protecting the First Amendment rights of students, teachers, and faith-based institutions. Students should not be forced to choose between their faith and their education, and an institution controlled by a religious organization should not have to sacrifice its religious beliefs to participate in Department grants and programs,” said Secretary DeVos. “These regulations hold public institutions accountable for protecting the First Amendment rights of students and student organizations, and they require private colleges and universities that promise their students and faculty free expression, free inquiry, and diversity of thought to live up to those ideals.”
Higher Ed Dive describes the gist of the Free Inquiry Rule:
Former President Donald Trump took an interest in protecting free speech and religious freedoms on college campuses.
In 2019, Trump signed an executive order that tied federal research dollars to colleges protecting First Amendment rights or their own free inquiry policies, depending on whether they were public or private institutions, respectively.
The free inquiry rule the administration issued in 2020 is a follow-up to that executive order.
The regulation forbids public colleges from denying religious student groups the same rights — such as funding — as other clubs because of beliefs, practices or policies informed by their faith.
Now, the Biden administration wants to rescind a key part of the Free Inquiry Rule, specifically the section stating that Institutes of Higher Education (IHE’s):
“shall not deny to any student organization whose stated mission is religious in nature and that is at the public institution any right, benefit, or privilege that is otherwise afforded to other student organizations at the public institution…because of the religious student organization’s beliefs, practices, policies, speech, membership standards, or leadership standards, which are informed by sincerely held religious beliefs.”
The administration cites three main reasons for doing so: (1) the provisions “are not necessary to protect the First Amendment right to free speech and free exercise of religion” of religious student organizations; (2) the provisions “create confusion among institutions;” and (3) the provisions “prescribe an unduly burdensome role for the Department [of Education] to investigate.”
Comments on the administration’s new rule are due Friday, March 24, and over 32,000 have been received by the DOE to date.
The proposal has met with substantial opposition, including this from a nonprofit organization called Advancing American Freedom, founded by former Vice President Mike Pence: “The ‘Free Inquiry Rule,’ from the Trump-Pence administration, is a necessary and proper means of protecting the free speech and free exercise rights of religious student organizations and their members at public institutions of higher education.” AAF also stated that “religious groups (particularly minority religions) are always at risk of having their First Amendment rights infringed,” and denied that the Rule was creating confusion, explaining that “The regulation’s requirements are straightforward and easy to follow,” and that colleges and universities simply “must not deny benefits to a student group on the basis of its religious beliefs.”
Today, the Equal Protection Project (EqualProtect.org) of the Legal Insurrection Foundation submitted its own comment on the proposed rescission:Our letter provided in part:
The Equal Protection Project of the Legal Insurrection Foundation (LIF) submits this letter comment to the U.S. Department of Education (“Department”) in opposition to “Direct Grant Programs, State-Administered Formula Grant Programs,” Docket ID No. ED-2022-OPE-0157 (the “Proposed Rule”) because it would end a Trump-Pence rule that added extra safeguards for the rights of faith-based campus groups.
EPP disagrees with each of the three reasons the DOE cites:
(1) “The provisions of the ‘Free Inquiry Rule’ are necessary to protect the First Amendment right to free speech and free exercise of religion of faith-based student organizations at [Institutes of Higher Education, or IHE], because religious groups (particularly minority religions) are always at risk of having their First Amendment rights infringed upon. That is why, throughout this country’s history, special or added protections have been afforded to religious groups, in all three branches, at both the state and federal levels, so that they can believe, practice, and speak freely.
(2) The rules facing rescission are not confusing. They simply “require that any IHE receiving federal grant funding ‘not deny to any student organization whose stated mission is religious in nature and that is at the public institution any right, benefit, or privilege that is otherwise afforded to other student organizations at the public institution.’ All these sections require is that religious groups be treated the same as secular groups or face the potential loss of federal funding; an important protection for campus religious groups who might otherwise be subject to discrimination.”
(3) The rules are not “unduly burdensome” as they simply require that the DOE determine “whether a religious student organization would have received the same benefits as other student organizations but for its religious beliefs. All the Department need do is compare the rights, benefits, or privileges allegedly denied to a religious group that are provided to non-religious groups and decide if the religious group was so denied such rights. Therefore, because the Department can provide no evidence for its claim that investigation would be unduly burdensome.”
In sum, EPP is proud to support the rights of campus religious groups, and we look forward to future opportunities to further ensure that the rights of campus religious groups, and others facing inequality and discrimination, are protected.
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This proposed rule is a woke attempt to marginalize and minimize the constitutional guarantee of free exercise of religion
Interesting that a man who was “loathed” by so many – not for his policies and great successes, those were ignored – but because of his ugly reaction to folks who publicly criticized him and generally he was not considered religious “Was the most proactive president in protection of Religious Liberty!” And among the haters and loathers they managed to ignore that, as well!!! I have wondered at the resemblance to the the bible story of Mary Magdalene!!