President Donald Trump on Thursday announced a series of new rules and guidance memos designed to push federal funds to religious organizations and advance prayer in public schools. The guidance comes amid a formal White House declaration recognizing Jan.16 as Religious Freedom Day.
In a reversal of Obama-era requirements that tightly restricted religious organizations receiving taxpayer money, almost a dozen federal agencies are rolling out proposals meant to ease those restrictions on religious groups, including schools and churches.
The Office of Management and Budget proposed a rule, for example, that says government organizations cannot make religion a determining factor on which to base a federal award.
The rule could override the Blaine Amendments, which prohibit taxpayer money from going to religious schools in 38 states.
Acting OMB Director Russ Vought said in a statement: "President Trump and this Administration are committed to religious freedom for every American."
"Today, through policy guidance, we are reaffirming that faith based organizations should be treated the same as secular organizations and that children in school are able to pray as they see fit, without repercussion from those in authority over them. We believe the constitution makes clear that as Americans, we don't have to leave our faith at the door of our home. "
Nine other agencies, at Trump's direction, will introduce rules that release some social service organizations from certain requirements.
The Department of Education, for example, will issue a draft regulation that says all religious student clubs must receive the same funds, rights, and privileges as secular groups in public colleges and universities.
"The Department's efforts will level the playing field between religious and non-religious organizations competing for federal grants, as well as protect First Amendment freedoms on campus and the religious liberty of faith-based institutions," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a statement.
A senior administration official told BuzzFeed News that the previous rules, enforced by former President Barack Obama, created a "burden" on religious groups that secular ones didn't have to deal with.
Trump is also set to announce new guidance on Thursday that would encourage prayer in public schools.
In announcing Religious Freedom Day, Trump called "on all Americans to commemorate this day with events and activities that remind us of our shared heritage of religious liberty and that teach us how to secure this blessing both at home and around the world."