Saturday, January 23, 2021

Suit Challenges DOE's Conditioning of Federal Grants To Colleges On Free Exercise For Student Religious Groups

Suit was filed earlier this week in the D.C. federal district court challenging recent changes to Department of Education rules (see prior posting) on protection of free speech and religious freedom by colleges and universities receiving federal grants. The complaint (full text) in Secular Student Alliance v. U.S. Department of Education, (D DC, filed 1/19/2021) challenges this addition to DOE rules:

As a material condition of the Department’s grant, each State or subgrantee that is a public institution shall not deny to any student organization whose stated mission is religious in nature and that is at the public institution any right, benefit, or privilege that is otherwise afforded to other student organizations at the public institution (including but not limited to full access to the facilities of the public institution, distribution of student fee funds, and official recognition of the student organization by the public institution) because of the religious student organization’s beliefs, practices, policies, speech, membership standards, or leadership standards, which are informed by sincerely held religious beliefs.

The complaint contends:

Under the guise of enforcing the First Amendment, the Rule bars public colleges and universities from requiring religious student organizations to comply with nondiscrimination requirements, including university rules and state laws specifying that university-recognized, university-funded student organizations may not bar students from club membership or leadership on the basis of characteristics such as race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability status, or status as a veteran.

American Atheists issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.