‘Petty, Mean-Spirited Attack’ on Faith: Christians Slam Biden’s Anti-Religious Liberty College Policy
The Biden administration owes Americans an apology for its “unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious” decision to roll back a Trump-era regulation protecting religious liberty on campus — a move First Amendment advocates described as a “petty, mean-spirited attack on religious believers.”
Numerous faith-based organizations submitted comments on the Biden administration’s proposal to erase the Religious Liberty and Free Inquiry Final Rule from the federal register. The regulation, which took effect in 2020, allows the federal government to deny taxpayer funds to any public college or university that violates the rights of religious student organizations. Biden’s Department of Education announced on February 21 that it believes the rule “is not necessary in order to protect the First Amendment right to free speech,” because Christian students can always sue universities that quash their unalienable rights. The DOE also called the rule confusing and “unduly burdensome.”
Conservative Christian organizations took full advantage of the 90-day comment period touched off by Biden’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.
Biden’s Department of Education should “issue a statement apologizing to the nation for this petty, mean-spirited attack on religious believers who currently attend or will attend institutions of higher education in the future,” said a comment offered by Family Research Council. Likewise, the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) called the deletion — which would require Christian taxpayers to fund their own suppression — “unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious.”
“Religious-based groups are entitled to the same benefits, grants, and funding as other groups. Religious student groups are often harassed or disparaged by university officials who are hostile to religious practice,” FRC noted. “[T]he Biden administration seeks to rescind [the regulation’s] Constitution-mirroring protections.”
FRC’s comment, respectfully submitted last Friday, also poked holes in the Biden administration’s logic for rescinding the conscience-affirming rule. “[T]he Department cannot claim excessive burdens from enforcement while also claiming that it ‘has not received any complaints,’” probably because the regulation deterred anti-Christian discrimination, contended its authors, Meg Kilgannon and Chris Gacek, who are, respectively, the senior fellow for Education Studies and the coalitions senior research fellow at FRC.
Grassroots Christians joined with them, as 13,691 believers signed their names to FRC Action’s proposed message. There were a total of 18,594 comments during the 90-day comment window, which closed last Friday, March 24.
Leaders at every level of power opposed the attempt to fund academic bad actors. At the pinnacle of power, 17 U.S. senators, led by James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.), wrote a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona opposing the action. They noted the DOE seemingly had little trouble investigating “other civil rights violations,” including “discrimination based on race, color and national origin.”
Enforcement should pose little problem, since Trump-era “protections for religious student groups prohibit only what the First Amendment already prohibits: denying to religious student groups any benefit that a university affords to other student organizations,” said the First Liberty Institute’s comment. “In addition, the Department’s claims that the 2020 rule imposes significant burdens on the Department are demonstrably false, and the Department’s insistence that universities are already making good faith efforts to comply with the First Amendment is nonsensical.”
“Robust debate is essential to the college experience,” said Christine Pratt, a counsel at First Liberty. “Existing rules ensure that college students are exposed to new ideas and are free to profess and maintain their opinions on college campuses across America. The proposed new rules are not just unnecessary, but they could threaten the freedom of religious student groups to exist on many college campuses.”
Other religious liberty organizations that urged the Biden administration to reconsider its rescission included the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Family Policy Alliance, Cru, the Navigators, Ratio Christi, the Defense of Freedom Institute, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the Coalition for Jewish Values, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Christian Legal Society, the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, the Coptic Medical Association of North America, Americans for Prosperity, and scholars associated with the Heritage Foundation.
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.