Ever since the 2016 Presidential campaign, many Never Trumpers have decried President Trump’s “unorthodox” approach to faith. However, his administration has made (dare I say) “huuge” strides in religious freedom. The Education Secretary Betsy DeVos who said the government would no longer enforce a federal law prohibiting religious organizations from partnering with private schools to provide federally funded “equitable services.”
Equitable services include activities such as tutoring, mentoring and professional development classes. How did we get to the point where services were filtered through the lens of faith?
In 1965, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was interpreted to require school districts must provide comparable services to educationally disadvantaged privately as well as publicly schooled students. However, the government soon said that none of that money could directly be delivered to private schools. Instead, local districts had to either provide the services or contract them out. “As implemented, federal law dictated that religious organizations were summarily barred from working as contractors with private schools,” write Frederick M. Hess and Brendan Bell of the American Enterprise Institute, “even when well suited for the work.”
These restrictions weren’t put in place because of the oh-so-discussed-but-misunderstood “separation of church and state.” These religious organizations were not tutoring using the Great Commission as a written text. The mentoring classes were not attempting to make the students more like Jesus. The math education classes weren’t focused on adding or subtracting the various Ten Commandments. In fact, no evangelism was occurring at all, yet the government continued to discriminate against these providers based solely on their religious affiliation.
No more. DeVos’s common sense, constitutional move, removes the knee-jerk anti-religious bigotry that has seeped into the fabric of our nation. In a press release, she affirmed the right of the free exercise of religion. “Those seeking to provide high-quality educational services to students and teachers should not be discriminated against simply based on the religious character of their organization” and made it clear that the “equitable services” be “secular, neutral and nonideological.”
On Monday, DeVos sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional leaders explaining this new development.
DeVos explained that this decision came after the 2017 Supreme Court decision, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia Inc. v. Comer, in which the state of Missouri was found to have unconstitutionally discriminated against a church-run private preschool when it refused to allow them access to publicly funded tire scraps.The state of Missouri was fine with little Christian kids’ playground being less safe than public school kids, but the Supreme Court was not.
Using the rationale from that case, DeVos and her team at the Justice Department decided that the provision in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was also discriminatory.
This may not be the most electrifying thing happening on Twitter this month, this week, or even this minute. And of course President Trump does much to direct the conversation away from the ground-breaking, religion-protecting decisions that are happening in his administration.
But maybe all the drama is not the worst thing in the world. As the high-minded, erudite pundits spend all their time worrying about Trump’s tweets about George and Kellyanne Conway’s marriage, great good is being accomplished with very little fanfare.
Little fanfare means little resistance. Other than a scary-sounding New York Times headline decrying DeVos’s easing of church-state rules in education, this change has gone largely unnoticed.
Maybe that’s all a part of Trump’s design. His slogan was “Make America Great Again,” and his administration is making good on that promise, little by little, day by day. The fact that the liberal media establishment hasn’t noticed is fantastic. Perhaps their ignorance is the lubricant for lasting change.
Mark Meckler (@MarkMeckler) is president of the nonprofit group Citizens for Self-Governance and a co-founder of the tea party movement.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.