(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump is set to issue new guidance on Thursday asserting a First Amendment right of students to pray in public schools across the United States.
“President Trump is committed to making sure that people of faith, particularly children, are not subjected to illegal punishment or pressure for exercising their constitutionally protected rights,” said Joe Grogan, White House director of the Domestic Policy Council, in a call with reporters to outline the president’s actions.
The White House said the president will welcome a group of students of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths to the Oval Office as he issues the updated guidance affirming constitutional protections for expressions of religion in public schools. In taking the action, Grogan said the president will be updating guidance that hasn’t been adapted since 2003.
Grogan pointed to the case of a group of middle school students in Texas who were repeatedly told not to pray in their school cafeteria during lunch break by the school principal, a decision that was later reversed by school district officials, to highlight why the updated guidance is needed.
In amplifying the president’s message, the Department of Education is set to send a letter to state education secretaries reminding them of students’ protected First Amendment religious rights.
Speaking at a Miami church in early January, Trump hinted that the action would be made official on Jan. 16.
“Very soon, I’ll be taking action to safeguard students and teachers’ First Amendment rights to pray in our schools,” Trump said. “They want to take that right along with many other ones.”
In addition to the rights of students, Grogan said the administration will take steps to make sure the federal government is being consistent in not discriminating against organizations because of a religious designation, with nine government agencies set to release proposed rules.
The Office of Management and Budget will also be releasing a memo requiring federal agencies to make sure their grant-making processes is in compliance with First Amendment protections.
Rob Boston, the senior adviser for Americans United for Separation of Church and State — a group known for its advocacy against open school prayer — shot back at Trump after he announced his plans to issue new guidance.
“Any guidelines this administration produces will likely either be littered with twisted interpretations of the law or, even if they are accurate, Trump will start boasting that he ‘brought prayer back to schools’ or some such nonsense,” Boston wrote in a Jan. 6 editorial on the group’s website.
He added, “If [the] Trump administration offers misleading advice on religion and public schools, we’ll be there to set the record straight and ensure our public schools remain inclusive and welcoming for all students, regardless of their religious or nonreligious beliefs.”
In a series of tweets on Thursday, group leaders said they would be “analyzing these regs now. We won’t let Trump’s attacks on #ReligiousFreedom go unchallenged.”
This presidential action comes as Trump also seeks to shore up support among the nation’s evangelical Christians — typically one of his most loyal constituencies — after the prominent Christianity Today ran an op-ed advocating for the president’s removal from office.
The president’s reelection campaign announced the formation of an “Evangelicals for Trump” coalition at a Florida rally earlier this month.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, courts have ruled in the past that it is unconstitutional for students to lead or initiate prayer before school football games, for a school official to lead or participate in a team prayer and for a school official to ask a team member or other student to initiate a prayer before or after public school athletic activities.
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