- The U.S. Department of Education has yet to issue its regulatory proposal that would govern religious liberties and free inquiry on college campuses, despite announcing more than a year ago it planned to do so.
- The proposal, expected to roll back elements of a Trump-era rule, has been pending for several months with the federal Office of Management and Budget, which reviews draft regulations before they’re released for public feedback. A proposed publishing date for the regulation is listed as June this year.
- An Education Department spokesperson said it cannot comment on the timing of a rule’s release if it is still under interagency review. The spokesperson said officials “look forward to publishing the rule and receiving public comment.”
Former President Donald Trump took an interest in protecting free speech and religious freedoms on college campuses.
In 2019, Trump signed an executive order that tied federal research dollars to colleges protecting First Amendment rights or their own free inquiry policies, depending on whether they were public or private institutions, respectively.
The free inquiry rule the administration issued in 2020 is a follow-up to that executive order.
The regulation forbids public colleges from denying religious student groups the same rights — such as funding — as other clubs because of beliefs, practices or policies informed by their faith.
It also outlines how religious institutions can claim exemptions to Title IX, the law banning sex-based discrimination at federally funded schools.
Critics said many elements of Trump’s free inquiry rule were redundant, as public institutions must already follow the First Amendment and higher education as an industry values principles of free expression.
The Education Department said in August 2021 that it intended to rescind parts of the rule, but officials did not specify which ones. The department expects public colleges to ensure they protect constitutional rights, Michelle Asha Cooper, acting assistant secretary for postsecondary education and deputy assistant secretary for higher education programs, said at the time.
“We urge public colleges and universities and their students to engage thoughtfully on these matters, holding paramount the goal of creating environments in which all students have the opportunity to learn and thrive,” Cooper said in a statement.
The Office of Management and Budget, or OMB, must review a rule before it’s put forth to evaluate whether a federal agency considered the consequences of the regulation, good or bad. Then, the public can offer feedback before it’s finalized.
Likely, a delay at OMB doesn’t signal the Biden administration’s draft free inquiry rule is in jeopardy, said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of government relations and public affairs at the American Council on Education, the sector’s top lobbying group.
The administration has many policy matters on its plate, Hartle said, including recent action to cancel up to $10,000 in student loans for borrowers earning under $125,000 a year, and up to $20,000 for those in the same income bracket who received federal Pell Grants in college.