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Ohio AG Dave Yost asks U.S. Dept. of Education not to rescind part of religious rule


Ohio AG Dave Yost asks U.S. Dept. of Education not to rescind part of religious rule

Mar 28, 2023 | 4:40 am ET
By Megan Henry
Ohio AG Dave Yost asks U.S. Dept. of Education not to rescind part of religious rule
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. (Photo by Justin Merriman/Getty Images)

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Education sent last week asking to keep a rule from the Trump administration requiring public universities to uphold the First Amendment when it comes to religious groups on campuses. 

The current rule, which the federal education department is trying to get rid of, prohibits public universities from denying religious student groups “any right, benefit or privilege that is otherwise afforded to other student organizations at the public institution” because of a group’s “beliefs, practices, policies, speech, membership standards or leadership standards, which are informed by sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Currently, universities in violation would lose access to grant programs administered by the department and indirectly through the states, but not federal financial aid. 

The U.S. Department of Education says the regulations are not necessary to protect the First Amendment right to free speech and free exercise of religion; have created confusion at higher education institutions; and “prescribe an unduly burdensome role” for the department to investigate the treatment of religious student organizations. 

Yost, however, disagrees. 

“Day after day, we see school administrators across the country targeting student religious groups as unworthy of existence,” Yost said. “Our county was founded on an entirely different principle – that Americans can practice their religion without fear of government reprisal.”

The four and a half page letter argues student religious organizations are under attack and this would “imposes irreparable harm on students for no federal benefit.” 

“The religious practice of student groups and individuals is under immense fire at universities … Instead, the proposed rule incentivizes the maltreatment of religious groups by uniquely labeling them discriminators,” the letter said. 

Twenty-one other state attorney generals signed Yost’s letter: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Free inquiry rule

The current rule was created under the free inquiry rule, which was finalized in 2020 and prohibits institutions from denying faith-based student groups “any of the rights, benefits, or privileges that other student groups enjoy.”

The education department announced in September 2021 that it was reviewing regulations related to First Amendment freedoms, including religious freedoms.   

“The Department’s review of these regulations focused on ensuring several key elements, including First Amendment protections, nondiscrimination requirements, and the promotion of inclusive learning environments for all students,” the Department of Education said. “The Department believes that protecting First Amendment freedoms, including protections for free speech and the free exercise of religion, on public university and college campuses is essential.” 

The department issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to rescind the regulations at the end of February and accepted comments up until last Friday, which was when Yost sent the letter. 

Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on Twitter.