Major Development: A Religious Freedom Rule From Donald Trump’s Presidency Is Under Direct Threat By Joe Biden’s Department Of Education


Disclaimer:  This article may contain the personal views and opinions of the author.

The rule known as “Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities,” or the “Free Inquiry Rule” for short, is a Trump-era rule focused on protecting the “rights of religious student groups at public colleges and universities.” 

Passed in November 2020, the rule rose out of legal battles Christian student groups faced for being selective when choosing leaders of their clubs. 

The rule “prohibits public colleges and universities from removing” the funding of “religious student organizations whose leadership policies conflict with campus anti-discrimination rules.”

The Biden administration’s Department of Education announced that they’d be conducting a review of the federal rule in a blog post last week. 

The Acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Postsecondary Education wrote, “Certain aspects of these regulations … impose additional requirements on Department of Education higher education institutional grant recipients.”

“The Department is currently conducting a review of those regulations while keeping in mind the importance of several key elements, including First Amendment protections, nondiscrimination requirements, and the promotion of inclusive learning environments for all students.”

The assistant secretary said the rule has “caused confusion about schools’ nondiscrimination requirements,” and created an “unduly burdensome role” for the department pointing to the requirement for officials to investigate colleges and universities on the treatment of religious student organizations.

“The Department today issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing to rescind a portion of the regulation related to religious student organizations because the Department believes it is not necessary in order to protect the First Amendment right to free speech and free exercise of religion given existing legal protections,” the announcement continued.

“We have not seen evidence that the regulation has provided meaningfully increased protection for religious student organizations beyond the robust First Amendment protections that already exist, much less that it has been necessary to ensure they are able to organize and operate on campus,” the assistant secretary said.

“The Department is proposing to return to this longstanding practice of deferring to courts. While the Department certainly shares the view that public institutions should not treat religious student organizations less favorably than other student organizations, we do not, at this time, believe that a threat of remedial action with respect to the Department’s grants helps achieve this goal.”

Some groups challenging the rule view it as discriminatory because it allows leadership policies that required leaders to be Christian and further, Christians who adhere to biblical ethics. 

This sounds reasonable since the groups in question are Christian groups. 

If that portion of the rule is repealed, groups will have to take their cases to court. 

Two organizations challenging the Free Inquiry Rule in court are 

Americans United for Separation of Church and State and American Atheists. They are celebrating this announcement by the Biden administration. 

A judge in Michigan ruled that other student groups can have restrictive leadership policies based on sex, political partisanship, gender identity, GPA, and even attractiveness, but don’t try to limit the leader of a Christian group to being a Christian. That doesn’t fly.  

Other courts have ruled in favor of Christian groups, but several more cases may hit the courts if this rule is rescinded. 

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