The Trump Administration is moving forward with a policy that expands protections for religious groups on college campuses and threatens to cut federal education funding to colleges that violate free speech rules.
Wednesday, the rule was issued by the Education Department and cements much of what President Trump outlined in a March 2019 executive order demanding wider speech protections at US colleges.
In taking up the issue, President Trump highlighted concerns from conservatives who complained that their voices had been suppressed on university campuses.
Now, the Education Department can suspend or terminate grants to public universities found in court to have violated the First Amendment. In extreme cases, schools could become ineligible for any further grants. The same actions could be taken against private universities found in court to have violated their own speech codes.
Public universities could also lose funding if they fail to provide religious student groups the same rights and benefits as other campus groups, including the use of campus facilities and access to student fee funding. That edict does not apply to private colleges, which have more flexibility in limiting speech on their campuses.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said the new rule protects the 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,” Secretary DeVos said in a statement.
In his March 2019 executive order, President Trump directed 12 federal agencies to tie their university funding to free speech rules. The new policy applies only to certain Education Department grants, and does not cover much larger pools of research funding. It was not immediately clear if similar policies are being prepared by other agencies.
The policy was welcomed by a variety of religious groups that say colleges too often discriminate against students based on their faith..
In its policy, the Education Department specifically forbids colleges from discriminating against religious student groups based on “leadership standards” that are “informed by sincerely held religious beliefs.”
The policy benefits Muslim student groups by allowing them to choose their own leaders according to their faith’s principles.
Many universities see it as an intrusion. They say the penalties are too severe and that it would be too easy to trigger a loss of funding.
When President Trump proposed his executive order last year, he highlighted the case of an activist who was punched while recruiting for the conservative group Turning Point USA at the University of California, Berkeley. President Trump revived the topic in July when he threatened to withdraw tax-exempt status for schools and universities.
In issuing his edict on Twitter, President Trump said “Too many Universities and School Systems are about Radical Left Indoctrination, not Education.”
“Without question, a smart move by the President – this action should solidify the fact of Trump’s solid religious convictions. This should set the media afire in its numerous religious attacks against the President, including his Washington speech last June in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church holding a Bible.
“In my opinion, his actions were long overdue, smart, applicable to all Religions and Races, and necessary to protect one’s religious freedoms of speech and faith rights, tying university grant funding to free speech rules under The First Amendment. Interesting to note is why Congress never took such action but understandable, given its far left leading,” Noted Bruce WD Barren, Chairman of The EMCO/ Hanover Group.
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