Trump acts to protect religious freedom in American public schools

President Donald Trump speaks in the Oval Office at an event announcing new guidance to protect religious freedom in American public schools. Photo courtesy C-Span video feed.

WASHINGTON D.C. – In 1962 the U.S. Supreme Court banned prayer in American public schools. Since that decision students, teachers, and even coaches have said their First Amendment rights were being suppressed. Others disagree, saying that students are allowed to pray or express their religion, they just can’t express themselves in such a way that it infringes on another student’s rights or makes other students feel like they must participate. However, time and again this idea has been subject to change depending on how it is interpreted.

One student in Utah had ash removed from his face after he attended an Ash Wednesday ceremony, because the ashes were in the form of the cross. Students and teachers have not been allowed to display Christmas trees in their classrooms. Coaches have been fired for leading their teams in prayer, even when the athletes wanted to pray and led the prayer.

That changed on Thursday when President Trump took action to protect every student’s First Amendment right to pray in school. The Trump administration announced they are updating federal guidance regarding prayer & religious expression in public schools. The current guidance on the Department of Education’s website has not been updated since 2003.

Now in order to receive federal funds, education agencies must confirm they are in compliance and that their policies do not interfere with or prevent constitutionally-protected rights as outlined in the federal guidance. This updated guidance will also allow individuals to file a complaint if they are denied the ability to participate in constitutionally-protected religious expression.

Further, the new guidance now makes clear that students can read from religious texts or pray during recess or other non-instructional periods, organize prayer groups, and express their religious beliefs in assignments. The action shows President Trump and his administration continuing to deliver on campaign promises he made to protect prayer and religious freedom for all Americans.

While Trump’s move was praised by people of faith, a liberal advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign, took aim at the President. They claimed President Trump was trying to support discrimination with taxpayer dollars and “dismantle” protections for “people seeking government services and benefits.”

“The right to believe and to exercise one’s faith is a core American value. The right to discriminate with taxpayer dollars is not,” said the Human Rights Campaign in a statement.

“Our Founders understood that no right is more fundamental to a peaceful, prosperous, and virtuous society than the right to follow one’s religious convictions,” said President Donald Trump.

During the announcement, White House spiritual adviser Paula White said people had been “bullied and harassed” for practicing their faith and that the President’s actions would help put a stop to that. White cited “horrific stories” of people being persecuted because they “simply wanted to pray.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos also spoke, reminding Americans why the First Amendment exists, “In reality, our Constitution doesn’t exist to protect us from religion, it exists to protect religion from government.”

Several students from across America, including Christian, Jewish and Muslim students also offered their stories of how their religious rights had been violated in recent years at school.

During his first year in office, President Trump signed an executive order upholding religious liberty and the right to engage in religious speech. Thursday’s actions continued Trump’s push to protect religious freedom.

Read the official Fact Sheet from the White House:

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