On National Religious Freedom Day Thursday, the White House announced several new rules and memos designed to roll back “discriminatory” federal regulations as well as promote teachers’ and students’ right to pray in public schools.
President Donald Trump was joined in the Oval Office by Christian, Jewish and Muslim students who have suffered some form of discrimination as he introduced new regulations and guidance promoting religious freedom.
Among them is the announcement that the U.S. Education Department will send out memos to secretaries and administrators in all 50 states stressing that they can’t prevent teachers or students from praying in public schools.
The goal is to “further safeguard students’ constitutionally protected right to pray in school” and to let public school administrators know that they can lose federal funding if they violate students’ religious freedom.
Additionally, the administration is set to publish draft rules issued by nine federal agencies that ensure less regulation on religious organizations and social service providers.
The administration said the rules would “eliminate burdensome Obama-era requirements that unfairly imposed unique regulatory burdens only on religious organizations.”
Trump said during a news conference that he doesn’t think there is anything more important than “the right to pray.”
“In public schools around the country, authorities are stopping students and teachers from praying, sharing their faith or following their religious beliefs. It is totally unacceptable. You see it on the football field, you see it so many times where they are stopped from praying. We are doing something to stop that.”
Trump stressed that “there is a cultural war” and called out a “totalitarian impulse on the far-left that seeks to punish, restrict and even prohibit religious expression.”
“You have a side that believes so strongly in prayer and it is being restricted and it’s getting worse and worse,” he said. “And I think we have made a big impact. We have loosened it up a lot and I want to loosen it up totally.”
The Department of Education has updated a 2003 guidance on prayer in public schools stating that local education agencies must, under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, certify that they do “not have any policy that prevents, or otherwise denies participation in, constitutionally protected prayer.”
The guidance also reiterates that states are required to report local education agencies that deny a student or employee the right to “engage in constitutionally protected prayer.” Those reports must be filed by Nov. 1 of every year.
Some critics argue that the right to prayer is already protected under federal law.
“Private prayer, to the extent that it would ever be interfered with, is already protected by the First Amendment and there are very, very few cases where any government official has tried to interfere with a private student’s right to pray,” Michigan State University law professor Frank Ravitch, author of School Prayer And Discrimination: The Civil Rights of Religious Minorities and Dissenters, told Time magazine.
But White House Director of the Domestic Policy Council, Joe Grogan, told NPR that existing provisions to protect school prayer established under the No Child Left Behind law have been eroded as a result of hostility to religion and religious institutions.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith