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Betsy DeVos Watch: When the Secretary of Education says faith-based organizations, she really means Christian organizations

December 16, 2020

In possibly her last act as Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos declared earlier this week that, “the Department of Education announced a joint final rule with eight other agencies — the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Agriculture, the Agency for International Development, and the Department of Veterans Affairs — to implement President Trump’s Executive Order No. 13831, on the Establishment of a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative. This rule ensures that religious and non-religious organizations are treated equally in Department-supported programs, and it clarifies that religious organizations do not lose their legal protections and rights just because they participate in federal programs and activities.” 

Accompanying this announcement was a direct comment from DeVos herself, who said:

“Religious liberty is a bedrock founding principle that this Administration consistently demonstrates its commitment to vigorously defend. 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.”

Of course, what DeVos means by faith-base organizations, she means Christian organizations. It would be naive to think that this administration would be defending Muslims, Buddhists, Native American religious traditions or any other faith-based groups that are outside of the Judeo-Christian framework.

In addition, such a pronouncement also raises the questions around the use of public taxpayer money for religious purposes. When this initiative was first adopted by the Trump Administration in May of 2018, the ACLU released a statement saying: 

Freedom of religion is one of our most fundamental and cherished rights. But that freedom does not give any of us the right to harm other people, to impose our beliefs on others, or to discriminate. The ACLU will be watching this initiative closely to ensure that it does not promote policies that violate these core principles. Many in the U.S., including people of faith, don’t want to give taxpayer-funded agencies or businesses open to the public a license to discriminate. 

In late June, we reported on the US Supreme Court ruling on that would force taxpayers to underwrite religious education in the US, so it will be very interesting to see what the incoming Biden Administration will do to challenge these dynamics. 

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