Religious groups and an alliance of attorneys general are criticizing the Department of Education (ED) for rescinding rules that protect college students’ religious freedoms.
The rules, which were instituted under the Trump administration, guaranteed First Amendment protections to students at federally funded universities, particularly for religiously affiliated student groups.
However, the current administration claims the rules haven’t “meaningfully increased protections of First Amendment rights” and are “unduly burdensome” for the ED to enforce.
But religious groups say the rules are vital to protecting students’ rights.
“[The regulations] provide common sense protection for faith-based student organizations that have faced discrimination on many public college campuses for nearly four decades,” said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a statement.
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, part of the Southern Baptist Convention, also claimed the proposed change “weakens protections for faith-based groups on campus and limits their ability to fully participate in student life without compromising their religious beliefs.”
Many legal experts are also siding with the religious organizations, saying the update would cause “irreparable harm to students for no federal benefit.”
Twenty-two state attorney generals, led by Ohio’s Dave Yost, sent a letter to the ED criticizing the effort to retract First Amendment protections.
“Day after day, we see school administrators across the country targeting student religious groups as unworthy of existence,” said Yost in a press release. “Our country was founded on an entirely different principle – that Americans can practice their religion without fear of government reprisal.”
The coalition of AGs also points out the ED’s implicit agenda: forcing religious groups to comply with so-called nondiscrimination requirements.
“Institutions are using ‘tolerance’ as an excuse to hurt religious organizations,” says the letter. “Depriving student groups of their rights in the name of ‘anti-discrimination’ furthers religious discrimination itself, which the Constitution does not tolerate.”
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) submitted its own legal analysis and opposing arguments on similar grounds.
“These are very reasonable protections for organizations that have faced constant harassment from university administrators in recent years,” wrote Jordan Sekulow, executive director of ACLJ. “Yet under the Biden administration, ED has decided that these protections are not necessary.”
Since public comment for the proposed rule has closed, the ED will now decide whether to move forward with the changes.