Recently, the U.S. Department of Education made two announcements that will affect the legal landscape once implemented.
In the first press release, the department announced that the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) will launch the Outreach, Prevention, Education and Non-discrimination (OPEN) Center. The OPEN Center is intended to assist and support schools and students by increasing awareness of the requirements and protections of federal non-discrimination laws.
Assistant Secretary Kenneth Marcus stated the OPEN Center’s goal is to strengthen civil rights compliance through voluntary, proactive activities. The center wants to become a great resource, more welcoming and supportive of students and communities.
The department also announced a proposed rule to implement Executive Order 13831, Executive Order on the Establishment of a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative. The purpose of the Executive Order is to give equal treatment (mainly in terms of grants) and Constitutional rights to religious organizations and faith-based education institutions.
The proposed rule has five points of emphasis:
- Direct grant programs and state-administered formula grant programs are established to safeguard equal treatment for religious and non-religious organizations.
- Public institutions of higher education are barred from denying faith-based student organizations any of the benefits or rights afforded to non-faith-based student organizations.
- Address and possibly remove the prohibition to use development grants for activities or services if they merely relate to sectarian instruction or religious worship.
- The department is seeking comment from the public regarding the definition of the term "controlled by a religious organization."
- Institute a material condition upon public institutions of higher education that receives a direct grant or a subgrant from a state-administered formula grant program. The material condition is to comply with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The Legal Ledger will continue to follow the OPEN Center and the proposed rule and provide updates as they are available.