Did you miss it? Last Thursday was Religious Freedom Day—a day commemorating the Virginia legislature adopting Thomas Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom, which eventually led to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the guarantee of religious freedom for all Americans. It wasn’t hard to miss as the mainstream media largely focused on the preparations for the impeachment trial and the Democratic candidates for president.
President Trump celebrated Religious Freedom Day with three new areas of protection for religious freedom. Over the past three years, we have shared with you ways the Trump administration has advanced religious freedom in quite a few areas of policy. At the very beginning of the Trump administration we asked you to urge the president to begin the process to Make Religious Freedom Great Again, which the president eventually did.
We also made sure you knew when he strengthened religious freedom by addressing the abortion pill mandate in Obamacare, conscience rights for healthcare professionals, government contractors and adoption agencies, and even religious freedom abroad – all of which are vital efforts to protect and promote religious freedom for Americans from all walks of life.
Last week, the Trump administration advanced religious freedom in three more important areas.
Student Religious Freedom
The administration will now require every public school in the nation to affirmatively certify that it does not impede, stifle or hamper the religious expression of students. Among other things, the rule reiterates that schools cannot compromise students’ First Amendment rights to pray, read the Bible, be excused for religious observances, and include religious references in school speeches or academic works.
The rule also explicitly reaffirms that schools cannot discriminate against student groups’ rights to pray and organize for prayer or Bible study at permissible times on school property if other extracurricular groups are allowed to meet and organize similarly. Neither can religious groups be subject to different rules or requirements based on their religious nature.
Schools must also have a policy in place to investigate any complaints of religious discrimination and report those complaints to both state and federal education officials.
Perhaps most importantly, the rules clarify that the Equal Access Act absolutely allows student religious groups to limit those eligible to lead their groups to those who are members of their religion. This is important as, in some cases, Christian groups have been targeted because of their requirement that group leaders be Christians and live according to a faith-based morality policy.
Schools that cannot annually certify compliance with this rule risk losing federal funding.
Repealing Obama Administration Anti-Religious Rules
In a second action last week, the Trump administration revoked a discriminatory Obama-era rule that impacted religious organizations unfairly.
The Obama rule placed a burdensome requirement on any faith-based organization providing government-backed social services such as adoption, foster care and homeless assistance, among others. The organizations were required to inform all clients that they were a religious/faith-based provider. If the potential client was then uncomfortable or offended by this, the service provider was required to provide a list of alternate, secular service providers.
The former rule made an automatic assumption that since the provider was a religious entity, clients would immediately take offense and opt to seek services elsewhere. The Obama rule immediately prejudiced faith-based providers as suspect and therefore required them to conduct themselves differently than secular providers. There was no requirement placed on secular providers to make any such declarations about their secular status or to provide alternate referrals to potential clients who desired a faith-based provider.
The final set of religious freedom protections announced last week further clarifies that religious, faith-based entities cannot be singled out or treated differently than secular, non-religious entities in federal grant-making processes. This will level the playing field and eliminate any prejudices against faith-based organizations across nine different federal agencies.
Additionally, the rule prohibits any state or local laws or regulations from superseding this rule in the further distribution of federal grant money to local sub-grantees. In effect, the rule states that no federal money can be further distributed in any manner that discriminates against religious, faith-based organizations due to their religious nature.
The Trump Record
Don’t be surprised if this is the first you are hearing of these changes. With all the noise of partisan bickering in our nation’s capital and election-year politics dominating the headlines, it can be easy to miss the good news – and this is truly good news for our families, our nation and our religious freedom.
The Trump administration has a record of accomplishment on religious freedom and is continuing to deliver on promises to protect our First Amendment rights.
For freedom for the family of believers,