As his impeachment trial was getting underway in the Senate, President Trump gave a hat tip Thursday to his evangelical base by updating the federal guidance on prayer in public schools — an action that came on National Religious Freedom Day.
The order is similar to a 2003 guidance on school prayer, but it establishes a state-mandated filing process for complaints against local schools and school districts.
States must then send the federal government a list each year of local schools and districts that have "a policy that prevents, or otherwise denies participation in, constitutionally protected prayer," in public schools. States are also required to report local schools that do not certify to the state that they don't have unconstitutional prayer policies.
The ACLU opposed the change and claimed that the previous protections were under attack. They did not specify what was being protected.
The new Trump guidance also emphasizes that students may pray or read scriptures when they have free time during school. What is does not do is attempt to encourage schools themselves to sponsor prayer, acknowledging that teachers and administrators are generally barred from engaging in religious speech as part of their official duties or inviting religious speakers on behalf of the school.