Trump to support prayer in public schools: 'We will uphold religious liberty'
President Donald Trump appeared to hint on Thursday to his evangelical Christian supporters that he intends to update the federal guidance on the issue of prayer in public schools - an action that came on National Religious Freedom Day.
Trump stated: "You have things happening today that 10 or 15 years ago would have been unthinkable. Taking the word God down, taking the word Christmas out. I think we’ve turned that one around very good. I think we’ve turned both of them around very good."
Watch Trump discuss the issue here:
Trump added: "This afternoon, we’re proudly announcing historic steps to protect the First Amendment right to pray in public schools. So you have the right to pray. And that’s a very important and powerful right. There’s nothing more important than that, I would say."
Per Fox News, Trump's new guidance emphasizes that students can pray or read scripture during their free time during school hours, but it cannot encourage schools to sponsor prayer and bars teachers from engaging in religious speech as part of their official educational duties. It also upholds the prohibition of schools inviting religious speakers to the school.
A White House press release claims: "The proposed rules would eliminate burdensome Obama-era requirements that unfairly imposed unique regulatory burdens only on religious organizations."
The guidance in question states: "For example, teachers and other public school officials, acting in their official capacities, may not lead their classes in prayer, devotional readings from the Bible, or other religious activities. Students and teachers do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."
Trump's new guidance makes it explicit that students can together or on their own during school hours, and they are allowed to discuss religious topics with peers. The Republican leader has also proposed nine new rules that aim to ensure that the federal government treats religious organizations.
However, some pundits have criticized the move. Rachel Laser, the president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State stated: "These rules undermine the civil rights and religious freedom of millions of our most vulnerable Americans who rely on social services, with particularly dire consequences for LGBTQ people and religious minorities."