Skip to content

Betsy DeVos Watch: Department of Education affirms its commitment to supporting religious education with public money

August 18, 2020

In early July, we posted an article about what the Supreme Court ruling in the Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, which essentially rules that public money can be used for faith-based education, and what it could mean moving forward with Betsy DeVos as the Secretary of Education. 

Last week, Betsy DeVos affirmed her department’s commitment to making sure that faith-based education programs and schools will benefit from this administration. DeVos stated: 

This Administration will continue to protect the religious liberty and First Amendment rights of every student, teacher and educational institution across the country. Too many misinterpret the ‘separation of church and state’ as an invitation for government to separate people from their faith. In reality, the First Amendment doesn’t exist to protect us from religion. It exists to protect religion from government. Today’s guidance reaffirms our commitment to protecting our first liberty and ensuring that discriminatory restrictions on access to federal grant funding are no longer tolerated.

Such a proclamation from the Secretary of Education makes it pretty clear where she stands on this matter. The danger with this Supreme Court ruling was reflected in a recent ACLU position, which states: 

The court’s ruling could effectively mean that, when states offer school vouchers or similar funding involving indirect aid — such as Montana’s tax credit scholarship program — they now must extend the aid to religious schools, too. This is despite the fact that millions more in government funds will be diverted from public schools as a result, and taxpayer dollars will be used to support religious indoctrination and training for future religious leaders and adherents. This also means that the government will fund discrimination against minority-faith and LGBTQ students and job applicants, as well as students and prospective employees with disabilities, whom many religious schools refuse to admit or hire. Indeed, earlier this year, the court heard arguments in two cases that could expand the ability of religious schools — the very same ones that often receive voucher funding — to discriminate in hiring and firing based on any ground the schools want, including race and ethnicity.

In her recent affirmation of Department of Education support for faith-based education, DeVos included a list of guidelines her department will use to guide faith-based educational systems. Those guidelines include:

Affirms that religious organizations are equally eligible to participate in ED-administered programs as their secular counterparts

• Affirms that financial award decisions are made based on merit, not based on an organization’s religion, religious belief, or the lack thereof

• States that religious organizations receiving federal financial assistance under a Department program must comply with program-specific legislation and regulations, but clarifies that these organizations may continue to carry out their missions and maintain their religious character. However, direct federal financial assistance may not be used for religious worship, religious instruction, or proselytization

• Reminds states that they may not use discriminatory Blaine Amendments to deny faith-based organizations contracts or grants, as this violates Department regulations against discrimination on the basis of an organization’s religious character or affiliation

• Affirms that students and/or borrowers seeking to participate in Department loan programs and beneficiaries seeking to participate in Department social service programs will not be penalized or singled out for disadvantages on the basis of religion

• Clarifies the role of the Department’s Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives (CFOI) as a Department office that collaborates with faith and community leaders to maximize participation of religious organizations in Department programs while eliminating barriers in the grantmaking or regulatory process to safeguard religious liberty

These guidelines are highly problematic and it will be interesting to see if this ruling will increase the amount of faith-based educational programs/schools applying for public money. In addition, when we say faith-based educational systems, we really mean Christian, since we all know that Betsy DeVos and the DeVos/Prince families have a deep commitment to ultra-Conservative Christian values. This issue of using public money for faith-based schools and educational programs is not getting the attention it should be, but make no mistake about it that groups like the Great Lakes Education Project, are working hard to make sure that the candidates they are endorsing in Michigan (all of the GLEP-endorsed candidates won their primary in Michigan), will be committed to channeling public money to religious schools.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: