Brookhaven Daily Leader

Hyde-Smith joins challenge of attack on religious student groups

By Daily Leader Staff

U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) on Friday announced her support for legislation to ensure religious student organizations do not face discrimination on college campuses.

Hyde-Smith is an original cosponsor of the Equal Campus Access Act of 2023 (S.985), which was introduced this week by U.S. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.).

“Colleges and universities should not be in the business of stifling anyone’s constitutional First Amendment rights of religion, free speech, or assembly,” said Hyde-Smith, who chairs the Senate Pro-Life Caucus.  “Instead of protecting the rights of students and groups with a religious focus, the Education Department is catering to the fringe.”

“On America’s college campuses, freedom of expression is under attack. Colleges need to remain an open arena for debate, discussion—and most importantly—faith.  It is shameful that the Biden administration is working to eliminate a rule that guarantees religious student organizations are not denied recognition, funding or any other rights that secular groups receive.  We must ensure that our nation’s public colleges and universities are truly neutral toward all religious student organizations,” said Lankford.

S.985 would restrict federal funding for colleges and universities that discriminate against student organizations because of their “religious beliefs, practices, speech, leadership standards, or standards of conduct” or deny them any right, benefit, or privilege that is otherwise afforded to other student organizations.

The legislation runs counter to a U.S. Department of Education rule to rescind Trump-era protections for religious student organizations at public institutions of higher education.  Hyde-Smith was among 17 Senators who signed a letter expressing opposition to the rule and asking Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to withdraw it.

In addition to Hyde-Smith, S.985 is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Thirty-five organizations, including Cru, Christian Legal Society, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Association of Evangelicals, Coalition for Jewish Values, Religious Freedom Institute, and others, signed a letter endorsing the Equal Campus Access Act.