Friday, January 17, 2020

New Federal Proposals On Grants To Religious Entities, Campus Speech and Guidance on School Prayer

The White House (Fact Sheet, President's Remarks), the Department of Justice and the Department of Education each yesterday announced initiatives on school prayer and participation of religious organizations in government grant programs.

The Department of Education issued a 203-page Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (full text) which proposes rule changes to prevent discrimination against faith-based entities receiving federal grants and to protect free speech on campuses. DOE and the Department of Justice also issued revised Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer and Religious Expression in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools (full text).

The Department of Justice issued a 29-page Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (full text) on  Equal Participation of Faith-Based Organizations in Department of Justice’s Programs and Activities. Among the changes described in the Notice is one which:
delet[es] the requirement that faith-based social service providers refer beneficiaries objecting to receiving services from them to an alternative provider and the requirement that faith-based organizations provide notices that are not required of secular organizations.
Finally, the Office of Management and Budget issued a 2-page Memorandum providing guidance as to federal grants. (full text). It reads in part:
Even when no Federal regulation or grant term penalizes or disqualifies grant applicants from participation based on their religious character, some state laws governing awards to subgrantees, including state constitutions, may purport to limit sub-grantee participation in violation of the U.S. Constitution. In attempting to comply with such state constitutions and laws, grantees may be discriminating against applicants for sub-grants on the basis of religion, in violation of the Constitution's Free Exercise Clause and the grantee's commitment to adhere to Federal laws prohibiting discrimination under 2 C.F.R. § 200.300. Accordingly, grant awarding agencies shall ensure that the terms of the Federal grants they award make clear that states or other public grantees may not condition sub-awards of Federal grant money in a manner that would disadvantage grant applicants based on their religious character.
USA Today reports on these developments.