Trump Vows to Protect Children's Constitutional Right to Pray at School
Federal guidance on prayer in public schools updated by President
President Donald Trump updated federal guidance on prayer in public schools on Friday, an action that came on National Religious Freedom Day.
The order, which is similar to a 2003 guidance on school prayer, places a state-mandated filing method for complaints against local schools and school districts.
States are required to send the federal government a list of local schools each year that have "a policy that prevents, or otherwise denies participation in, constitutionally protected prayer," in public schools.
“You have things happening today that 10 or 15 years ago would have been unthinkable,” Trump said.
“Taking the word God down, taking the word Christmas out. I think we’ve turned that one around very good. I think we’ve turned both of them around very good.”
The new Trump guidance also highlights that students may pray or read scriptures they have free time in school.
But the order does not attempt to encourage schools themselves to sponsor prayer, recognizing that teachers are prohibited from engaging in religious speech as part of official duties.
"For example, teachers and other public school officials, acting in their official capacities, may not lead their classes in prayer, devotional readings from the Bible, or other religious activities," the guidance states.
The order continues:
"Students and teachers do not 'shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."
The guidance makes clear students may pray alone or together during school, while they may try to persuade their peers about religious topics.
BREAKING: The Trump administration just proposed multiple new regulations that will roll back critical protections under the guise of religious liberty.— ACLU (@ACLU) January 16, 2020
The Trump administration also proposed nine new rules that aim to ensure fair treatment of religious organizations by the federal government.
A White House press release stated:
"The proposed rules would eliminate burdensome Obama-era requirements that unfairly imposed unique regulatory burdens only on religious organizations."
But the updates drew criticism from some groups who argued it empowered discriminatory behavior.
“These rules undermine the civil rights and religious freedom of millions of our most vulnerable Americans who rely on social services — with particularly dire consequences for LGBTQ people and religious minorities,” said Rachel Laser, president, and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Last year, The Trump Administration also lifted the ban on religious symbols, such as Bibles from veterans' hospitals.
The ban was part of a directive to "protect religious liberty" for veterans and their families by ensuring so-called "inclusivity" and "nondiscrimination."
These directives permitting religious literature, symbols, and displays at VA facilities have now been revised by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).