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Biden's DOE moves to rescind policy protecting religious student groups, claiming it causes an 'unduly burdensome role' for the department

US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

The Biden administration's Department of Education announced a proposal Tuesday to repeal a Trump-era policy that protects religious student groups by withholding federal funds from universities that restrict the groups' speech and activities, the Daily Caller News Foundation reported.

According to the DOE, the 2020 policy creates an "unduly burdensome role" for the department and fails to provide "meaningfully increased protection" for students.

The policy, part of a 2019 executive order signed by former President Trump, was enacted to ensure universities could not censor or restrict the activities of religious student organizations on campus.

It allowed the DOE to withhold grant funds from public universities found to have violated students' First Amendment rights. The policy also requires universities to provide religious student groups the same rights as other campus organizations, such as access to campus facilities.

Former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told the Washington Post that the policy was enacted to protect 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," DeVos stated.

In September 2021, the DOE began reviewing regulations to determine which policies "impose additional requirements on its higher education institutional grant recipients."

Biden's DOE recently concluded that the 2020 policy is "not necessary in order to protect the First Amendment right to free speech and free exercise of religion given existing legal protections, it has caused confusion about schools' nondiscrimination requirements, and it prescribed a novel and unduly burdensome role for the Department in investigating allegations regarding public institutions' treatment of religious student organizations."

"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 DOE added.

The DOE noted that it does not believe "a threat of remedial action with respect to the Department's grants helps achieve this goal."

The department stated that it "shares the view that public institutions should not treat religious student organizations less favorably than other student organizations" but argued that if a public university discriminates against religious student groups, the matter should be resolved in the court system.

The DOE's proposal to rescind the policy will be open to public comment for 30 days, beginning February 22.

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