Trump DOE Promotes School Prayer on National Religious Freedom Day

Girl closed her eyes and folded her hand in prayer on a Holy Bible
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President Donald Trump is marking National Religious Freedom Day with a ceremony at the White House on Thursday and is also issuing a guidance letter to educational institutions and the public on students’ Constitutional right to prayer.

The guidance will be posted in the Federal Register on January 21, 2020 and it states, in part:

Section 8524(a) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act and codified at 20 U.S.C. 7904(a), requires the Secretary to issue guidance to State educational agencies (SEAs), local educational agencies (LEAs), and the public on constitutionally protected prayer in public elementary and secondary schools. In addition, section 8524(b) requires that, as a condition of receiving ESEA funds, an LEA must certify in writing to its SEA that it has no policy that prevents, or otherwise denies participation in, constitutionally protected prayer in public schools as detailed in this updated guidance.

Education Week’s report on the guidance noted precedent for the Trump administration’s move:

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, in its current and past versions, requires the U.S. Department of Education to provide guidance on prayer in schools every two years, but that guidance hasn’t been updated since 2003, a senior administration official said.

“President Trump is committed to making sure that people of faith, particularly children,” are not discouraged from constitutionally protected rights to pray, an administration official said in a conference call with reporters.

The new school prayer guidance, which will be published in the Federal Register Thursday Jan. 21, reiterates requirements under existing law that school districts must annually certify to their state departments of education that they have “no policy prohibiting participation in constitutionally protected prayer,” officials said. State education departments must have a process for fielding complaints the right to prayer has been violated, and they must report any complaints or lawsuits over school prayer to the federal Education Department, the guidance says.

The guidance also states that student religious groups should have the same access to school facilities as secular groups, which has been in place since 1998, Education Week reports.

The Trump administration will also issue a directive on Thursday that states religiously affiliated groups can get federal grants even if the group is located in a state that prohibits public funding of such groups.

“Those laws, known as Blaine amendments, are the subject of a case on tax-credit scholarships for private schools that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court next week,” Education Week notes in its report.

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