Trump administration wants ‘defend free speech’ by cutting funding for colleges that block anti-LGBT+ religious groups
The Trump administration will cut government funding for colleges which block anti-LGBT+ religious student groups, in a new policy it says defends “free speech”.
According to HuffPost, the policy was announced by the education department on Wednesday (9 September).
The department said it would suspend or terminate grants for public universities if they are found in court to have violated the First Amendment, and in some cases colleges could become ineligible for future grants as well.
Public universities could also lose government funding if religious groups are not given the same benefits as other groups, including access to university funds and the use of facilities.
Education secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement: “Students should not be forced to choose between their faith and their education, and an institution controlled by a religious organisation should not have to sacrifice its religious beliefs to participate in Department grants and programs.”
The new policy cements an executive order signed by Donald Trump in 2019, supposedly protecting the First Amendment on college campuses by ordering federal agencies to tie funding to freedom of speech.
The executive order followed complaints from conservative groups at universities that they were being repressed, and Trump described it at the time as a “historic action to defend American students and American values that have been under siege”.
Religious groups celebrated the new Trump administration policy, with Greg Jao, a spokesman for the evangelical anti-LGBT+ religious group InterVarsity Fellowship saying: “Universities should welcome all religious groups equally, in order to encourage tolerance, pluralism and religious diversity.”
Other groups, according to HuffPost, cited an incident in 2018, when University of Iowa withdrew certification from religious groups which refused to comply with its nondiscrimination policy after a gay Christian was denied a leadership role because of his sexual orientation.
The new education department policy expressly states that colleges cannot discriminate against religious student groups which “leadership standards” that are “informed by sincerely held religious beliefs”.
But Terry Hartle, the senior vice president of The American Council on Education, insisted that the policy was simply a political move by the Trump administration.
He said: “We see this as a politically motivated solution in search of a problem, being issued in an election year.
“This is being done to appeal to a particular part of the president’s base.”