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Trump Administration Proposes Key Guidance Protecting Prayer in School and New Regulations Across 9 Federal Agencies to Protect Religious Liberty


Jordan Sekulow

January 17, 2020

4 min read

Religious Liberty



Yesterday, President Trump unveiled significant religious liberty protections across nine federal agencies – religious liberty protections that we have long advocated.

There were two major categories of action. First, the Administration is issuing new guidance to public schools nationwide ensuring the right of each and every student to pray in school. It further provides guidance on a host of religious liberty issues including Bibles in schools and the religious liberty rights of teachers and other school staff. Second, the Administration will be issuing new rules across nine federal agencies to ensure that religious organizations and faith-based businesses are not only treated the same as non-religious organizations and businesses, but that specifically remove forced speech requirements that required religious organizations and businesses to refer for services that violate their faith.

This is the first time since 2003 that new Department of Education guidance has been issued, even though it is required every two years by federal law. We use this critical guidance in defending students across the country, and these updates will provide even stronger guidance for schools. In fact, it reads more like a religious liberty demand letter to every public school in the country, and carries the teeth of enforcement – the loss of federal funding if certain requirements and certifications are not met.

Here is how the Administration outlined the new DOE guidance:

  • “The Trump Administration is taking action to further safeguard students’ constitutionally protected right to pray in school.
  • President Trump is updating Federal guidance regarding protected prayer and religious expression in public schools, which has not been issued since 2003.
  • The update will help safeguard students’ rights by giving education providers and students the most current information concerning prayer in public schools.
  • To receive Federal funds, local educational agencies must confirm that their policies do not prevent or interfere with the constitutionally-protected rights outlined in the guidance.
  • The updated guidance will help improve individuals’ ability to file a complaint if they are denied the ability to participate in protected religious expression.
  • The new guidance makes clear that students can read religious texts or pray during recess and other non-instructional periods, organize prayer groups, and express their religious beliefs in their assignments.”

These are the rights that we have been fighting for over the last several decades, including winning landmark cases at the Supreme Court. Our legal teams are reviewing the new guidance and will use it to the full extent of the law in our numerous cases battling religious discrimination in school – cases we’ve taken on like the little boy who had his Bible confiscated in school or the little girl who was singled out and banned from discussing her pro-life views in school.

We will also be directly engaging the regulations proposed to protect religious liberty through the comment and review process. Pursuant in part to two Executive Orders (EO13831 and EO13798) which President Trump issued to require federal agencies to take concrete actions to ensure religious liberty is protected, nine federal agencies are issuing new rules to ensure that religious organizations and businesses receive equal treatment under the law.  The federal agencies are the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Department of Education, Department of Agriculture, Department of Labor, Department of Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development (HUD), USAID, and Veterans Affairs.

As the Administration outlines:

  • “The Administration is issuing nine proposed rules to protect religious organizations from unfair and unequal treatment by the Federal government.
  • The proposed rules would eliminate burdensome Obama-era requirements that unfairly imposed unique regulatory burdens only on religious organizations.
  • The Office of Management and Budget is also releasing a memo requiring Federal agencies to ensure that the grant-making practices of state recipients of Federal funding comply with the First Amendment.
  • The Trump Administration is committed to ensuring religious organizations can compete on a level playing field for funding, without discrimination.”

This too is something we have long been advocating for. And importantly these proposed rules will have the teeth of federal funding attached to them. As each rule is released in the coming days, our legal team will review them. We plan to file official public comments in support of religious liberty protections in each rule. This will give you an opportunity to join our legal comments as well as provide you some specific opportunities to make your own comments on some of the most important regulations.

Together we are making an impact to ensure that religious liberty is protected. We will be providing you more information in the coming weeks about these exciting new opportunities.

You can join our efforts to defend religious liberty by joining on to our comment supporting the new rules below. And you can submit your own comment directly to HHS here.

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