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Secular Student Alliance v. U.S. Department of Education

Description: Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Christian student organization Ratio Christi filed a motion in federal court Thursday to intervene in defense of a U.S. Department of Education regulation which requires all public colleges and universities that are federal grant recipients to comply with the First Amendment. Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed suit to challenge the rule, implemented during the Trump administration, on behalf of the Secular Student Alliance.


U.S. Department of Education building

Student group seeks to defend US Dept. of Ed. free speech protections

ADF attorneys represent Ratio Christi, which opposes attempt to kill rule that requires public colleges, universities to abide by First Amendment
Thursday, Feb 18, 2021

WASHINGTON – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Christian student organization Ratio Christi filed a motion in federal court Thursday to intervene in defense of a U.S. Department of Education regulation which requires all public colleges and universities that are federal grant recipients to comply with the First Amendment. Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed suit to challenge the rule, implemented during the Trump administration, on behalf of the Secular Student Alliance.

Ratio Christi is a nationwide Christian apologetics organization whose mission is to defend the intellectual plausibility of the Christian faith on campus and explain how the Christian viewpoint relates to personal, vocational, and cultural aspects of life.. Any student can attend its events and join the organization, but like many other clubs, it requires that those who lead the organization share its beliefs. The DOE rule had been implemented in part to prevent public colleges and universities from forcing student organizations to accept individuals who apply for leadership positions into leadership even if they do not believe in the group’s mission, or even actively oppose it.

“Universities should model the First Amendment values they’re supposed to be teaching students; they should not have unilateral power to dictate how student organizations select their leaders,” said ADF Senior Counsel Matt Bowman. “The First Amendment guarantees freedom of association—that is, the right to gather around shared beliefs. Colleges and universities receiving federal funds shouldn’t be permitted to thwart the First Amendment through mandates that allow people who want to undermine the mission of a student group to become leaders of it. The Department of Education was right to enact a regulation that prohibits this and other First Amendment violations.”

The DOE rule seeks “to foster environments that promote open, intellectually engaging, and diverse debate” on college and university campuses, which can only be accomplished when all students are given the ability to speak and assemble freely. The rule requires public universities to comply with the First Amendment, prevents public universities from denying religious student organizations equal access to campus resources and benefits based on that organization’s beliefs, speech, or religious requirements for choosing its leaders and members.

ADF attorneys filed the motion to intervene in Secular Student Alliance v. U. S. Department of Education with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.


The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is dedicated to ensuring freedom of speech and association for students and faculty so that everyone can freely participate in the marketplace of ideas without fear of government censorship.

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ABOUT Matt Bowman

Matt Bowman serves as senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, where he focuses on the impact of administrative law on religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and family. He most recently joined ADF in December 2020. From 2017 to 2020, Bowman was a senior executive service appointee in the Trump administration, serving the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as Deputy General Counsel, and then in the Office for Civil Rights. Prior to joining HHS, Bowman was an accomplished litigator at ADF for over ten years. Before joining ADF in 2006, Bowman served as a law clerk for Judges Samuel A. Alito, Jr., and Michael A. Chagares, at the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and for Judge John M. Roll at the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. Bowman earned his J.D. summa cum laude and was first in his class at Ave Maria School of Law in 2003. He is a member of the bar of the District of Columbia and Michigan and is admitted to practice at the U.S. Supreme Court and multiple federal appellate and district courts.