Education Department Protects Religious Freedom

Mar 13, 2019

The U.S. Department of Education will no longer enforce a restriction that previously prohibited school districts from contracting with faith-based organizations to provide equitable services to vulnerable children solely due to their religious affiliation.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act,  which governs the nation’s elementary, middle and high schools, requires that school districts offer low-income or vulnerable students who attend private schools the same services, such as special education, tutoring or mentoring, that public school students receive. The federal law also requires that organizations contracting for those services be independent of “any religious organization.”

However, this restriction barring religious organizations from serving as contractors runs counter to the 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, that held that under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, otherwise eligible recipients cannot be disqualified from a public benefit solely because of their religious character. 

Liberty Counsel filed an amicus brief in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer. In that case, the High Court found the state of Missouri had unconstitutionally engaged in religious discrimination when it denied publicly funded recycled tire playground surfaces for a church-run preschool and day care center’s playground.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said, “The Trinity Lutheran decision reaffirmed the long-understood intent of the First Amendment to not restrict the free exercise of religion. Those seeking to provide high-quality educational services to students and teachers should not be discriminated against simply based on the religious character of their organization.”

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