Prayer could be finding its way back into public schools if new rulings proposed by the Trump administration today moves forward. It’s entitled Executive Order 13831, Executive Order on the Establishment of a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative, or as Trump is calling it, Right to Pray. Coming together in an effort to lift an executive order put in place by the Obama administration were nine federal agencies, including the Education Department, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Justice Department.
Of the move, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement, “Our actions today will protect the constitutional rights of students, teachers, and faith-based institutions. The Department’s efforts will level the playing field between religious and non-religious organizations competing for federal grants, as well as protect First Amendment freedoms on campus and the religious liberty of faith-based institutions. I proudly share President Trump’s commitment to religious freedom and the First Amendment.”
It’s anticipated that a letter from Trump will be sent to education secretaries and officials across the US as a reminder that students and teachers can’t be discriminated against for practicing First Amendment religious rights. As mentioned in an article from NPR, “The U.S. Supreme Court banned school-sponsored prayer in public schools in a 1962 decision, saying that it violated the First Amendment. But students are allowed to meet and pray on school grounds as long as they do so privately and don’t try to force others to do the same.”
Per The Washington Post, “The Education Department plans to issue guidance that will require local school districts to certify that they have no rules or regulations that conflict with students’ right to pray at school. It will also require states to notify the Education Department if there are complaints against a school system regarding the right to pray. The department does not have similar reporting requirements for states when a school district is accused of other types of discrimination.”
Trump’s message was delivered in conjunction with today’s recognition of National Religious Freedom Day. Visiting the Oval Office was a group of students from Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, each a victim of discrimination.
Two weeks ago, at El Rey Jesús church in Miami, Trump announced the formation of a coalition, Evangelicals for Trump, as well as his administration’s intent to “safeguard students’ and teachers’ First Amendment rights to pray in public schools.” The Washington Post reported, “The move comes as Trump seeks to shore up support among conservative evangelical Christians in the lead-up to his reelection bid.”
Critics have accused the Trump camp, The Washington Post said, of “using the flag of ‘religious freedom’ to give more taxpayer dollars to Christian groups.” A case set to be heard by the US Supreme court delves further into this realm of how religious schools access taxpayer funds.
Prayer in Schools: Sources
The Washington Post: Trump
administration moves to protect prayer in public schools
US Department of Education: DeVos Prayer in Schools statement
NPR: Trump To Reinforce Protections For Prayer In Schools