Thanks to the Biden administration, religious liberty and free speech on campus is in jeopardy. The president plans to revoke federal policy protecting religious liberty on campus while critics worry that students will lose their First Amendment rights.
The Religious Liberty and Free Inquiry Final Rule was written by the Trump administration in 2019 to allow the federal government to withhold federal aid from any college that does not allow religious student groups the same accommodations as other student organizations because of their religious beliefs.
Under the Trump administration policy, the Department of Education may also punish universities that do not uphold academic freedom or free speech. Without this leverage, the Trump administration believed academic institutions would trample students’ fundamental rights.
The Biden administration’s Education Department announced it would completely revoke this religious liberty protection, giving schools more opportunity to discriminate against religious students. Democrat regulators claim that the rule is “not necessary” because students that are discriminated against may sue universities in court.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, the man who helped implement the rule, responded by saying, “The ‘Free Inquiry Rule,’ from the Trump-Pence administration, is a necessary and proper means of protecting the free speech and free exercise rights of religious student organizations and their members at public institutions of higher education (‘IHEs’).” Pence’s group, American’s Advancing Freedom (AAF), also notes that the rule was a response to the historical reality that “religious groups (particularly minority religions) are always at risk of having their First Amendment rights infringed.”
The Biden administration justified the move to remove the protection by claiming that it places an “unduly burdensome role” on the Department of Education. In response, AAF notes that the department only needs to determine “the relevant question under the regulations it seeks to rescind: whether a religious student organization would have received the same benefits as other student organizations but for its religious beliefs.” In fact, the law specifies that the Education Department “will rely upon a final, non-default judgment by a state or federal court,” meaning it can avoid First Amendment jurisprudence altogether. These supposed logistical issues seem to be an excuse for disregarding for Christians’ First Amendment rights.
Universities are overwhelmingly left-leaning, and far too many conservative or Christian students have been muzzled as a result. A recent study conducted by the National Association of Scholars found that college professors’ gave more campaign donations to Democrats than Republicans by a margin of 95-to-1. At Harvard University, more than 80% of faculty of arts and sciences identify as “liberal” or “very liberal.”
Their ideologies are often just as faith-based – albeit, a faith in an ungodly ideology – as the ideas Christian students express, yet often, only progressive ideas are encouraged and welcomed. Students deserve and have a right to combat their school’s ideological religion that worships the god of self with their own religion that worships the one true God.
“Contrary to what you might think, many secular institutions now require faith statements, too. They go by the name diversity statements, but they function in the same ways as faith statements at religious institutions,” wrote professor Justin McBrayer.
Students benefit greatly from campus ministries and Christian clubs on campus. As universities become increasingly religious in their progressive beliefs and increasingly hostile toward Christian students, we need more protections for the religious liberty and free speech of students, not less. The removal of the Religious Liberty and Free Inquiry Final Rule would result in more violations of students’ basic right to seek and express their Christian faith on campus.