The Department of Education has decided to consider rescinding parts of a recently filed rule that requires universities to support all religious groups that discriminate.
In September 2020, the Department published the Religious Liberty and Free Inquiry Final Rule under the Trump administration. This legal prerogative was supposed to help "reinforce First Amendment freedoms and equal treatment of religious student organizations at public institutions" and ensure that "private institutions adhere to their stated institutional policies regarding free speech and academic freedom." Specifically, the Trump Administration designed the rule to exempt religious groups from any nondiscrimination requirements that all student groups adhere to. This interpretation means that, in the case of a group that demands that members adhere to a Biblical understanding of marriage, the leadership could decide not to offer membership to LGBTQ members.
The rule was challenged by a coalition of humanist groups on behalf of a university student in California. The lawsuit argued that the former Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, did not have the authority to promote this interpretation and that this would conflict with current regulations.
In light of this, the Department has started conducting a review of these rules with the hope of determining the law's viability. This review will approach the process objectively while maintaining several priorities, including "First Amendment protections, nondiscrimination requirements, and the promotion of inclusive learning environments for all students." The Department intends to publish a series of updates to the rules, including rescinding parts of the Free Inquiry Final Rule. Throughout the process, the public will be allowed to submit comments on the proposal through a former notice-and-comment period.
"Throughout this process and beyond," writes Michelle Asha Cooper, acting assistant secretary for the Office of Postsecondary Education, "public colleges and universities must ensure the protection of First Amendment freedoms, including religious freedom and freedom of association, which long predate the Free Inquiry Rule. Compliance with nondiscrimination requirements must be in a manner consistent with the First Amendment."