- The Washington Times - Friday, September 11, 2020

An association of atheists has come out swinging against a new rule published this week by the Department of Education widely seen to boost religious groups’ free speech and freedom of association rights on college campuses.

“What DeVos is really doing is cloistering off religious students from the existence of atheists, religious minorities, and LGBTQ people, and trying to force all students to remain in their ideological bubbles,” said Nick Fish, president of American Atheists, in a statement on Thursday.

The new rule protects the rights of student groups on public campuses, even those with religious beliefs, to set eligibility rules and access campus facilities or activity funds just like other student groups. In March 2019, President Trump called for federal agencies to drop funding of colleges that violate students’ free speech.

“These regulations hold public institutions accountable for protecting the First Amendment rights of students and student organizations,” said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, in rolling out the final rule on Wednesday.

Religious groups and other free speech advocates largely hailed the new rule. Foundation for Individual Rights in Education Policy Director Joe Cohn said he hoped the “additional risk of losing federal grant money” would lead colleges to “rethink their practices.”

Last fall, a federal judge found the University of Iowa violated the rights of Business Leaders in Christ by de-recognizing it over its statement of faith prohibiting LGBTQ members from holding leadership roles in the group.

• Christopher Vondracek can be reached at cvondracek@washingtontimes.com.

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