Published March 24, 2023
On Friday, March 24, 2023, EPPC scholars Rachel N. Morrison and Natalie Dodson submitted a public comment opposing the U.S. Department of Education (ED) proposed rule, “Direct Grant Programs, State Administered Formula Grant Programs,” which would rescind two provisions relating to First Amendment protections for religious student groups.
The two provisions require grantees, states, and subgrantees that are public institutions to provide equal campus access for religious student groups. The provisions were a response to discrimination many religious student groups faced at public institutions of higher education. They explain the First Amendment protections for the religious student groups and the constitutional obligations of the institutions, providing benefit to both students and college and university administrators. Yet, ED proposes rescinding those provisions.
The EPPC scholars explained in their comment,
The proposed rescission gratuitously targets religious student groups.… The Department claims it “has not observed that [the provisions] have meaningfully increased protections of First Amendment rights for religious student organizations,” yet it has failed to do its due diligence of researching and crediting the effectiveness of the provisions. ED provides unspecified claims that the provisions cause confusion, but fails to acknowledge that rescinding the provisions will actually cause confusion and harm religious student groups, colleges and universities, and campus communities. ED fails to explain why rescission is needed, making its proposal unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious.
The scholars urged ED to withdraw proposed rule and protect equal campus access for religious student groups of all faiths.
Rachel N. Morrison is a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where she directs EPPC’s HHS Accountability Project. An attorney, her legal and policy work focuses on religious liberty, health care rights of conscience, the right to life, nondiscrimination, and civil rights.