As the Biden administration works to overturn them, Senate Republicans have filed legislation to formalize a rule preserving the right of religious groups to organize on college campuses.
In order to ensure that public universities do not deny religious student organizations “any right, benefit, or privilege,” such as student activities funding and access to campus facilities, “that is otherwise afforded to other student organizations at the public institution,” the Trump administration introduced the Religious Liberty and Free Inquiry Rule three years ago. Universities that are found in violation of such rights risk losing federal grants under the current regulations.
The Equal Campus Access Act was presented by Sens. Tim Scott (R-SC), James Lankford (R-OK), and 14 other Senate Republicans to codify the current policy. In a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, the lawmakers said that changing the rule would expose religious student groups to First Amendment rights breaches.
“Student organizations, especially religious ones, are significant in the lives of college students and on campuses. Sadly, the new rule jeopardizes kids’ capacity to develop academically and spiritually while upholding their unique beliefs, according to the letter. “Students want structured fellowship on college campuses so they may study and live out their faith with other like-minded individuals. They shouldn’t face discrimination solely because of their serious religious convictions; rather, they should be given the same rights as any other student organization on campus.
According to the Education Department, the previous regulation should be repealed because it “is not necessary” to safeguard free speech and the right to practice one’s religion, tends to cause “confusion among institutions,” and assigns officials an “unduly burdensome role” in conducting investigations into claims of abuse. The legislators rebutted that the Education Department had failed to “offer any examples” of colleges filing official complaints about the vagueness of the regulations, and they claimed that the agency’s admission that protecting religious freedom was “unduly burdensome” was “alarming.”
Several national religious organizations have just drafted their own letters in support of the Fair Campus Access Act, including InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Reformed University Fellowship, and the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty. A free and truly pluralistic society is founded on the right to congregate based on religiously informed beliefs, the organizations stated.
Critics of the Biden administration’s policies consider the proposed regulation change to be one of many that pose a risk to religious freedom. Earlier this week, House Republicans pushed to ensure that the text of the upcoming federal budget forbids agencies from discriminating against people or groups because of a “sincerely held religious belief, or moral conviction, that marriage is, or should be recognized as, a union of one man and one woman.”