Thursday, September 10, 2020

DOE Issues Final Rule On College Free Speech and Equal Treatment of Student Religious Groups

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Education announced the release of its Final Rule (full text) conditioning government grants on protections of free speech rights and equal treatment of religious organizations. Summarizing the 246-page Release, DOE said in part:

[P]ublic colleges and universities must comply with the First Amendment as a requirement to receive Department grants. Private institutions of higher education must comply with their own stated institutional policies regarding freedom of speech, including academic freedom, as a requirement of Department grants.... 

Second, the rule clarifies how an institution may demonstrate that it is controlled by a religious organization for purposes of Title IX. Federal law provides that Title IX “shall not apply” to educational institutions that are “controlled by a religious organization,” to the extent that application of Title IX would not be consistent with the religious tenets of such organization....

Third, the rule ensures equal treatment of religious student organizations at public colleges and universities. As a requirement of the Department’s grants, public colleges and universities must not deny to a religious student group any of the rights, benefits, or privileges that other student groups enjoy. For example, a religious student group must have the same rights as other student groups at the public institution to receive official recognition, to use the institution’s facilities, and to receive student fee funds. Equal treatment of religious student groups is now a material condition of the Department’s grants.  

Fourth, the rule revises regulations governing some discretionary grant programs under Titles III and V of the Higher Education Act.... Current regulations could prohibit a school from using such a grant for even secular activities or services such as teaching a course about world religions. The rule more narrowly tailors the prohibition on the use of these grants to religious instruction, religious worship, or proselytization. The rule also ... clarif[ies] that institutions are not prohibited from using grants for a secular department of religion.

Education Dive reports on the new Rule.