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Trump administration moves to protect prayer in public schools and federal funds for religious organizations

The changes and proposed rules were announced on a telephone briefing for reporters Thursday.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said her department plans to remind schools that students and teachers have a constitutional right to pray in public schools, and that student-led religious organizations should get to access to public facilities just as secular ones.

“Our actions today will protect the constitutional rights of students, teachers and faith-based institutions,” DeVos said. “The department’s efforts will level the playing field between religious and nonreligious organizations competing for federal grants, as well as protect First Amendment freedoms on campus and the religious liberty of faith-based institutions. I proudly share President Trump’s commitment to religious freedom and the First Amendment.”

The Education Department also plans to issue guidance that will require local school districts to certify that they have no rules or regulations that conflict with students’ right to pray at school. It will also require states to notify the Education Department if there are complaints against a school district regarding the right to pray. The department does not have similar reporting requirements for states when a school district is accused of other types of discrimination.

The move comes as Trump seeks to shore up support among conservative evangelical Christians in the lead-up to his reelection bid. Two weeks ago, he held an event at El Rey Jesús church in Miami to announce the formation of a coalition, Evangelicals for Trump. There, he also announced his administration’s intent to “safeguard students’ and teachers’ First Amendment rights to pray in our schools.”

Next week, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a case that could expand how religious schools access taxpayer funds.

The case emerged in Montana, where the state constitution prohibits public dollars from going to religious schools. When the state created a tax-credit scholarship fund, a voucherlike program that allows taxpayers to receive dollar-for-dollar tax deductions for their donations, it barred beneficiaries from using the funding to send their children to religious schools. A family sued, setting the stage for a case that could determine how states can regulate voucher programs.

This is a developing story. It will be updated.

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