Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has moved to make it easier for faith-based entities to qualify for government grants and student aid by taking aim at regulations that go too far in restricting religious participation.
Notices posted late Wednesday as part of the federal government’s twice-yearly regulatory agenda said the department would undertake reviews to ensure that rules governing religious organizations comply with current law.
That includes the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in the Trinity Lutheran case striking down a Missouri law that had prevented a church from obtaining public funds for resurfacing playgrounds.
“Various provisions of the Department’s regulations regarding eligibility of faith-based entities and activities do not reflect the latest case law regarding religion or unnecessarily restrict religion,” the agency said in a statement. “The Department plans to review and to amend such regulations in order to be more inclusive.”
The Education Department also plans to rescind any regulations that “unnecessarily restrict participation by religious entities” in higher education and student aid programs.
“For example, some provisions may be overly broad in their prohibition of activities or services that relate to sectarian instruction or religious worship,” said the notice. “Other provisions may be overly broad in prohibiting the benefits a borrower may receive based on faith-based activity.”
Faith-based institutions cheered the announcement by Mrs. DeVos, a conservative Christian with a long record of supporting public-education reform as well as religious schools through her family foundation.
“We appreciate Secretary DeVos’ commitment to ensuring students are able to obtain quality educations at the institutions of higher education that will best serve their needs, including religious colleges and universities,” said Shirley V. Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.
“Eliminating or revising regulations that impose undue and outdated restrictions on religious institutions is an important and welcome development,” Ms. Hoogstra added.
The notices posted on the General Services Administration’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs came as part of the administration’s release of its spring regulatory plan as President Trump moves to shed federal regulations.
Michael Galligan-Stierle, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, said the costs associated with government regulations are “an ongoing concern for ACCU members.”
“Any effort by the Department of Education to reduce regulations while also protecting the First Amendment rights of faith-based colleges is encouraging,” he said in a statement. “Today’s colleges manage a steady stream of governmental regulations that can drive up costs and impede their ability to serve students.”
Paula Moore, ACCU vice president of external affairs, added that “we’re especially hopeful that the Department’s actions will result in more aid money ultimately flowing to students.”