Many faith-based college groups are praising the Department of Education's final rule last Wednesday to protect religious groups on campuses freedom to choose leaders based on their own criteria.

This ruling is directly related to an executive order issued by President Trump in March of 2019 that promised to withhold federal research grants from colleges and universities that are hostile to First Amendment rights of students. According to a 2 page summary of the report, the final rule is a historic step and implements Trump's executive order, called Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at College's and Universities.

This rule follows controversial cases of religious groups on campus which have policies that require leaders to adhere to their faith being defunded by university administrators. 

The regulation -  Religious Liberty and Free Inquiry Final Rule (Final Rule) - "ensures the equal treatment and constitutional rights of religious student organizations at public institutions and provides clarity for faith-based institutions" in relation to Title IX discrimination law. 

"[A] religious student organization would have the same rights as other student organizations at the public institution to receive official recognition, to use the institution's facilities, and to receive student fee funds."

The rulemaking is based upon "months of careful deliberation" and "extensive input represented by over 17,000 public comments."

The final rule sets out regulations for both public and private universities to follow in accordance with the First Amendment. The document summarizes, "The Final Rule helps ensure that public institutions of higher education uphold fundamental rights guaranteed in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, including protections for freedom of speech, association, press, religion, assembly, petition, and academic freedom, and that private institutions of higher education adhere to their own stated institutional policies regarding freedom of speech, including academic freedom."

The Department described existing remedies for noncompliance from schools: "Existing remedies include imposing special conditions, temporarily withholding cash payments pending correction of the deficiency, suspension or termination of a federal award, and potentially debarment."

Greg Jao, director of external relations for InterVarsity Fellowship, questioned the anti-religious environment at colleges, "What made the student groups who were denied recognition different? They expected their student leaders to agree with their religious beliefs. The recognized groups did not. Universities should welcome all religious groups equally, in order to encourage tolerance, pluralism and religious diversity." 

Jao and many other leaders of faith-based youth groups lauded the Department's ruling on discrimination. 

For example, Ismail Royer, director of the Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team for the Religious Freedom Institute, expressed the benefit for Muslim groups on college campuses.

"This new regulation is an important policy for Muslim student organizations because it allows them to select their own leaders and define their own mission by their faith's principles," Royer, said. "This right should be reserved for all student religious organizations, and not usurped by university officials based on their own shifting, unpredictable standards." 

Other notable leaders that publicly praised the ruling included Jimmy McGee, president of the Impact Movement and Rabbi Abba Cohen, vice president for government affairs and Washington director for Agudath Israel of America.

Time will tell how colleges across America and the Department of Education will abide by and enforce this ruling.