Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced that a final rule “Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities” will go into effect immediately. Any institution that fails to uphold the First Amendment will not receive any grants from the federal government. The rule will also protect student religious groups from discrimination.
“Students should not be forced to choose between their faith and their education, and an institution controlled by a religious organization should not have to sacrifice its religious beliefs to participate in Department grants and programs,” said DeVos. “These regulations hold public institutions accountable for protecting the First Amendment rights of students and student organizations, and they require private colleges and universities that promise their students and faculty free expression, free inquiry, and diversity of thought to live up to those ideals.”
The department will rely on state and local court decisions in deciding whether a college or university is in compliance with the rule.
Citing “the well-developed body of case law by state and federal courts on First Amendment rights and violations of stated institutional policies,” the Department of Education will rely upon a state or federal court ruling to determine whether the grant conditions have been violated. Additionally, as a requirement for receiving grants, “public colleges and universities must not deny to a religious student group any of the rights, benefits, or privileges that other student groups enjoy,” such as receiving student fee funds, acquiring university recognition, and using campus facilities.
What makes this rule so dangerous to the left is that it encourages the student to think broadly and explore new ideas in an atmosphere of free expression.
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Gary Cantwell of The Navigators, a college campus ministry, said that a university “should be a place where students are free to explore new ideas, perspectives and worldviews. With this guidance, the Department of Education provides for a diversity of thought and spiritual expression on campus that will help students as they prepare for an increasingly complex world.”
There will still be efforts to shut down conservative ideas and religious groups. No rule can stop the left from trying. But at least there are now penalties if they lose in court — penalties that will sting.
Court challenges are already being readied and as the rule makes it clear, schools will have to lose in court before the department would take action. But school administrators have been known to turn a blind eye when other students attempt to shut down their meetings and stifle their speech.
Agreeing to free speech is one thing. Actually putting those words into action is another.