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Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is proposing new rules that could result in allowing faith-based educational organization to discriminate against vulnerable individuals

January 21, 2020

Last week, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that the Department of Education was updating rules on prayer in schools and a proposed rule on faith-based education institutions. 

None of this has received much attention in the mainstream commercial news media, but we believe it is important for people to be made aware of any new or proposed policies, particularly that rely on public tax dollars. This is especially the case with this issue, particularly since Betsy DeVos identifies very publicly as a Christian and as someone who embraces a very conservative theological framework.

In the announcement from the Depart of Education, Secretary DeVos says, “The Department’s efforts will level the playing field between religious and non-religious organizations competing for federal grants, as well as protect First Amendment freedoms on campus and the religious liberty of faith-based institutions. I proudly share President Trump’s commitment to religious freedom and the First Amendment.”

It is well know that Betsy DeVos and the DeVos family support a form of Christian Reconstruction, which essentially means that society should be run by biblical values, rather than secular values. DeVos has continued to inject her faith-based values since she became the Secretary of Education in 2017, something we have been documenting in our Betsy DeVos Watch articles and it is the main topic of a well researched article that appeared in Mother Jones in 2017, entitled, Betsy DeVos Wants to Use America’s Schools to Build “God’s Kingdom.” 

The updated prayer guideline can be found at this link, which was originally part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and further strengthen in the Every Student Succeeds Act (2015). The Every Student Succeeds Act was an extension of the No Child Left Behind Act, with some modifications.

The proposed rule that was announced last week and is not yet policy, is what DeVos and the Department of Education have been working on since the US Supreme Court ruling in the case of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer. In that ruling, which we reported on in 2017, which basically means that the State of Missouri must give taxpayer funding to a house of worship.

In the new proposal, announced last week by the Department of Education, it would pave the way for allowing faith-based institutions to access more federal funding and it would provide more opportunities for faith-based entities to discriminate against vulnerable populations. The ACLU reaction to this new proposal from the Department of Education is instructive: 

The Trump administration proposed multiple new regulations today that will roll back critical legal protections under the guise of religious liberty.

The proposed regulations would revoke key protections for beneficiaries of government-funded social services, eliminating requirements that religious providers refer individuals who ask to a secular alternative and notify individuals of their rights. Agencies affected touch nearly every area of life, and include: Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Labor, Agriculture, Education, Justice, Homeland Security, and International Development.

The regulations also would make it more difficult for some individuals to access critical social services funded by the government. Specifically, the new rules would ease certain restrictions that have prevented federally-funded religious social service providers from imposing religious requirements on individuals seeking help or turning them away just because they are LGBTQ or follow a different faith, in situations where no secular alternative provider is available.

Again, it is important to note that this is only a proposal, but it could become formal policy unless there is organized opposition.

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