Policy Summary: On January 16, 2020 President Donald J. Trump issued an update to a 2003 Federal guidance document regarding protected prayer and religious expression in public schools.

The document states that the guidance it is issuing for public schools will “promote equal treatment” for religious organizations and “champion the fundamental right to religious freedom.” Additionally, the guidance will require that “local educational agencies must confirm that their policies do not prevent or interfere with constitutionally protected rights” in order to receive Federal funds and will “help improve individuals’ ability to file a complaint” if they are prohibited at a public school from prayer or religious expression. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Policy Analysis: While the updated guidance document and the Proclamation declaring January 16, 2020 Religious Freedom Day have generated alot of news about President Trump’s purported support for the role of religion in American public life, a closer analysis of the guidance document shows that it makes no meaningful changes to the current state of American law and policy when it comes to the subject of prayer and religious expression in public schools.

After President Trump’s announcement, many concerned civic groups came forward to express their opposition to the position taken by the Trump Administration. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU), a non – profit group, issued a tweet stating that President Trump wasn’t really protecting the idea of religious liberty but was merely pandering to American religious extremists who are determined to “inject a narrow set of religious beliefs into our public schools.” Rob Boston of AU also wrote a blog post where he said students in public schools have always had the right to pray and express their religion as long as the student’s action does not disrupt class and is voluntary. For President Trump to claim that he will “not allow anyone to push God from the public square” is misleading. There is no effort to push God or religion from the public square. The effort is to uphold the concept of a separation of church and state while allowing personal expressions of religion as long as it is not disruptive to secular activities. By simply re – stating the same principles from the 2003 Federal guidance document in his 2020 Federal guidance document the Trump Administration has simply done nothing of substance to further uphold the Federal policy regarding prayer and religious expression in public schools.

The response from Heather Weaver, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief hints at what the real motivation was for the Trump Administration. Ms. Weaver stated, “Government-funded programs, including those operated by faith-based organizations, should not be able to discriminate against vulnerable people seeking help.” Ms. Weaver was likely implying that religious groups were being targeted and courted by President Trump with the re – statement of this religion policy. A number of religious groups have tried to assert that their religious beliefs are under attack simply because they are not allowed to discriminate against people with different values from their own, such as LGBQT issues and persons. President Trump’s issuance of this policy then, even though it makes no substantive changes, appears nothing more than a political tactic aimed at securing more support from Christian and evangelist groups. It does not seem to be making any real headway into championing the concept of religious freedom. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.

Photo by unsplash-logoChris Liverani

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