As the Trump Administration approaches its final month in office, the U.S. Department of Education along with eight other federal agencies, announced a rule ensuring that religious and non-religious organizations are treated equally in department-supported programs.
The rule implements President Trump’s May 3, 2018, Executive Order on the Establishment of a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative, clarifying that religious organizations do not lose their legal protections and rights just because they participate in federal programs and activities.
“Religious liberty is a bedrock founding principle that this Administration consistently demonstrates its commitment to vigorously defend,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, announcing the final rule Monday. “At the Department of Education, we’re continuing to ensure faith-based organizations, including faith-based institutions, do not give up their First Amendment rights as a condition of participating in taxpayer programs. We will continue to ensure faith-based educational providers are treated equally alongside their secular counterparts. Under this Administration, religious discrimination in education is never tolerated.”
Joining the Department of Education are the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Agency for International Development.
A press release announcing the new rule said that it removes requirements in prior regulations that placed “unequal burdens on religious organizations, cast unwarranted suspicion on them, and were in tension with their religious liberty rights.”
“This final rule also clarifies that religious organizations do not lose various legal protections because they participate in federal programs and activities, such as the rights to accommodations and conscience protections under the First Amendment, Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and other federal laws,” the announcement said. “This final rule preserves most of the existing regulations governing participation of religious organizations in the Department [of Education]’s financial assistance programs, including provisions barring providers from discriminating against beneficiaries based on religion and requiring that any religious activities by the organization be separated in time or location from any services directly funded with federal money.”
According to the press release, the nine agencies worked collaboratively to draft notices of proposed rulemaking that were published or delivered to Congress in January 2020. They received over 95,000 public comments “from a range of interested parties, including Members of Congress; state and local governments, agencies, and officials; faith-based services providers and umbrella organizations; advocacy organizations; and individuals,” the announcement said. “The agencies considered those comments, modified their regulations to address concerns raised in the comments, and drafted responses which are included in the final rule.”