Executive Branch

The Center works in a bipartisan manner to advance religious freedom, regardless of the political party in the White House. Because the federal agencies and departments, as well as the independent commissions, affect the health of religious freedom in a myriad of ways, the Center tracks administrative developments and participates as appropriate in the process. The Center speaks on behalf of religious freedom through the notice-and-comment rulemaking process, by attending listening sessions with agency staffs, and by sending letters to officials to bring religious freedom concerns to their attention.

Examples of matters upon which the Center has worked in a bipartisan manner on executive branch matters, include:

Department of Education Proposes New Regulations to Protect Religious Student Groups: For 40 years, CLS student chapters and other religious student organizations have frequently encountered problems in becoming, or remaining, recognized student organizations on public university campuses. To address this problem, the United States Department of Education, in 2020, proposed two regulations that would protect religious student organizations’ ability to remain on public university campuses.

Proposed regulation 34 CFR § 75.500(d) states (and § 76.500(d) is essentially verbatim): “A public institution shall not deny to a religious student organization at the public institution any right, benefit, or privilege that is otherwise afforded to other student organizations at the public institution (including full access to the facilities of the public institution and official recognition of the organization by the public institution) because of the beliefs, practices, policies, speech, membership standards, or leadership standards of the religious student organization.” 85 Fed. Reg. 3190, 3223, 3226 (Jan. 17, 2020).

Fourteen states have already passed laws that protect religious student groups on public college campuses. Click here to listen to a podcast featuring Mike Schutt and Kim Colby discussing why the proposed regulations are needed. Read CLS’s comment letter, its attachments, and Addendum A and Addendum B that was filed February 18, 2020.

The campus access regulation became final on September 23, 2020, and is effective as of November 23, 2020.
Trump Administration Attorney General’s Memorandum for All Executive Departments and Agencies on “Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty”: On October 6, 2017, Attorney General Sessions issued guidance pursuant to Executive Order 13798, § 4 (May 4, 2017), for all agencies to use to implement existing religious liberty protections in federal law. The memorandum highlights twenty “Principles of Religious Liberty” and provides guidance for implementing the principles by federal agencies when acting as an employer or engaged in rulemaking, enforcement actions, contracting, or the distribution of grants. A separate memorandum instructed Department of Justice staff how to implement the guidance within the Department.

The Center attended one of many listening sessions convened by the DOJ lawyers assigned to work on this project. Representatives of organizations across the political spectrum and representing a diverse range of faiths attended these sessions.
Testimony before the United States Commission on Civil Rights regarding Religious Freedom: On March 22, 2013, Center Director Kim Colby testified on behalf of robust religious freedom before the United States Commission on Civil Rights at a briefing entitled “Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties.” The Commission released its briefing report in September 2016 in which a majority of the commissioners expressed opinions that, in the view of many, exhibited intolerance for religious dissenters. Two commissioners defended a robust vision of religious freedom.

Diverse faith groups protested the report’s intolerance in a letter to President Obama, Speaker Ryan, and President Pro Tem of the Senate Hatch. Read the Center’s testimony, oral statement, the Commission’s briefing report, or a short summary of the Commission’s findings and recommendations, including one commissioner’s statement. Read Center Director Kim Colby’s congressional testimony that outlines the basic flaws with the Commission’s findings and recommendations.
Clinton Administration’s United States Department of Education “Religious Expression in Public Schools”: The Center assisted in drafting the guidelines that formed the basis for the Department of Education guidance letter sent to all school superintendents by both the Clinton and Bush Administrations.
Clinton Administration Presidential Guidelines on “Religious Exercise and Religious Expression in the Federal Workplace”: The Center helped craft guidelines that President Clinton issued as guidance for all federal agencies to protect two million federal workers’ religious expression in the workplace. In October 2017, the Trump Department of Justice reaffirmed the validity of the Clinton guidance as having the “force of an executive order.”



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