Scott, Blunt, Lankford Announce Bill to Protect First Amendment Rights of Faith-Based Student Groups

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Tim Scott (S.C.), Roy Blunt (Mo.), James Lankford (Okla.) announced the Equal Campus Access Act, legislation that would ensure that religious student organizations can operate in accordance with their faith-based principles. The bill prohibits funding for public institutions of higher education if they deny rights, benefits, or privileges to student organizations because of their beliefs, practices, speech, leadership standards, or codes of conduct.

“If we’re not instilling the importance of the First Amendment in our nation’s colleges and universities, we’re doing our future an injustice,” said Scott. “Too many public institutions of higher learning are silencing the voices of faith-based student groups and I am proud to stand with my colleagues to stand up for the First Amendment. Freedom of speech isn’t just a nice saying—it’s a core American ideal.”

“Students don’t give up their First Amendment rights when they step foot on a college campus,” said Blunt. “Over the past decade, there have been far too many incidents where universities excluded religious student groups because of their faith-based policies. This bill ensures faith-based student groups have the same rights and protections as other student organizations. Congress afforded similar protections to public high schools under the Equal Access Act and there is no reason it should not apply to higher education institutions.”

“Our nation’s college campuses should respect the rights of religious student groups, just as they respect the rights of other groups, to select their own leaders who share their faith and mission,” said Lankford. “More and more we see free speech and free association restricted on college campuses, especially for religious speech and religious groups, but students do not have to forfeit their First Amendment rights of speech, religion, and association to attend a public college. The Equal Campus Access Act affirms the right of religious groups to choose their own leaders without government interference.”

Over the last decade, institutions of higher education in 31 states have had incidents where religious student organizations lost access to rights, benefits, and privileges because of their faith-based policies. Despite a clear mandate from the Supreme Court to allow diverse viewpoints in the campus setting, colleges and universities continue to stifle religious perspectives by prohibiting religious groups from selecting leaders based on whether they support the organization’s beliefs.