Trump to issue new guidance asserting students’ right to pray in public schools

smolaw11/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump issued new guidance on Thursday, asserting a First Amendment right of students to pray in public schools across the United States.

The president -- as he looks to gain more support from evangelical Christians, typically one of his most loyal constituencies -- is also taking steps to make it easier for religious organizations to gain access to federal programs.

"We will not let anyone push God from the public square," Trump said Thursday afternoon, speaking from the Oval Office on National Religious Freedom Day -- where he welcomed students from Christian, Jewish and Muslim backgrounds. "We will uphold religious liberty for all and I want to thank you all."

Trump said the directive is a way for the administration to "safeguard" students' religious freedom rights.

"We call this the right to pray," he said, adding "there is nothing more important than that I would say."

But it didn't stop with students, the Office of Management and Budget followed suit releasing a memo that will require federal agencies establish grant-making processes that comply with First Amendment protections.

Nine agencies are also set to release proposed rules to ensure religious and non-religious organizations are treated equally by the federal government.

The Trump administration's guidance will also give students and parents the platform to make complaints about religious discrimination to state education departments, according to administration officials.

In amplifying the president’s message, the Department of Education is set to send a letter to state education secretaries reminding them of students’ protected First Amendment religious rights.

"Too many misinterpret a separation of church and state as an invitation for government to separate people from their faith," Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said. "In reality our Constitution doesn't exist to protect us from religion, it exist to protect religion from government."

Speaking at a Miami church in early January, Trump hinted that the action would be made official today -- Jan. 16.

"Very soon, I’ll be taking action to safeguard students and teachers’ First Amendment rights to pray in our schools," Trump said Thursday morning. "They want to take that right along with many other ones."

The guidance had not been updated since 2003.

An administration official pointed to the case of a group of middle school students in Texas who were repeatedly told not to pray in their school cafeteria during lunch break by the school principal, to highlight why the update is needed. The decision was later reversed by school district officials.

"President Trump is committed to making sure that people of faith, particularly children, are not subjected to illegal punishment or pressure for exercising their constitutionally protected rights," Grogan, the White House director of the Domestic Policy Council, said in a call to reporters.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), a group known for its advocacy to ensure that "religion does not dictate public policy," shot down Trump's plan in a series of tweets -- claiming it was only catering to "religious extremists."

Rob Boston, AU's senior adviser, shot back at Trump after he first announced his plans to issue new guidance.

"Any guidelines this administration produces will likely either be littered with twisted interpretations of the law or, even if they are accurate, Trump will start boasting that he 'brought prayer back to schools' or some such nonsense," Boston wrote in a Jan. 6 editorial on the group's website.

He added, "If [the] Trump administration offers misleading advice on religion and public schools, we’ll be there to set the record straight and ensure our public schools remain inclusive and welcoming for all students, regardless of their religious or nonreligious beliefs."

The group's leaders said in a different series of tweets that they would be "analyzing these regs now."

"We won’t let Trump's attacks on #ReligiousFreedom go unchallenged," the group said on Twitter.

The American Civil Liberties Union released a statement of critique following the event.

"Government-funded programs, including those operated by faith-based organizations, should not be able to discriminate against vulnerable people seeking help," Heather Weaver, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, said in the statement. "We will submit comments vigorously opposing these proposed regulations."

This presidential action comes as Trump also seeks to shore up support among the nation’s evangelical Christians after the prominent "Christianity Today” ran an op-ed advocating for the president’s removal from office.

The president’s reelection campaign announced the formation of an "Evangelicals for Trump" coalition at a Florida rally earlier this month.

"Well, it is a cultural war. And you have two sides ... you have a side that believes so strongly in prayer and then being restricted and it's getting worse and worse and I think we've made a big impact," Trump said on Thursday. "And we are loosening up a lot ... I want to loosen it up totally."

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Man dies after being zipped into suitcase, girlfriend arrested

Man dies after being zipped into suitcase, girlfriend arrestedOrange County Sheriff's Office(WINTER PARK, Fla.) -- A woman in Florida has been arrested in the death of her boyfriend after she allegedly zipped him into a suitcase and left him there for hours, authorities said.

Sarah Boone, 42, called authorities Monday afternoon to report that her boyfriend, 42-year-old Jorge Torres Jr., was dead at her Winter Park home, according to the arrest affidavit. Boone said they were playing hide-and-seek when the couple "jokingly thought it would be funny if Jorge got in the suitcase," and Boone zipped him inside.

Boone said they had been drinking alcohol that night, the affidavit said. She said she then "went upstairs and passed out in her bed."

Boone said she woke up around 11 a.m. when her phone rang multiple times, the affidavit said.

When Boone went downstairs and didn't see her boyfriend anywhere, she "realized that he was possibly still inside the suitcase," the affidavit said. Boone unzipped the suitcase and found Torres unresponsive and not breathing.

When deputies responded to her 911 call, Torres was found lying by the front door near a blue suitcase, the affidavit said. He had a small laceration on his lip and apparent bruising around his eye. Torres was declared dead around 1 p.m.

As authorities investigated, they recovered video from Boone's phone in which Torres was repeatedly yelling out Boone's name, the affidavit said.

Torres was seen on the video pushing on the suitcase, trying to escape, according to the affidavit.

In the video, according to the affidavit, Boone said to Torres, "For everything you've done to me," then laughed and said, "F--- you. Stupid."

Torres repeatedly called out his girlfriend's name, and told her, 'I can't f------ breathe, seriously," the video showed, according to the affidavit. When Torres repeatedly told Boone he couldn't breathe, Boone replied, "That's what I feel like when you cheat on me ... You should probably shut the f--- up."

Arrested: Sarah Boone, 42, for Second Degree Murder in the death of 42-year-old Jorge Torres Jr., who died after Boone zipped him into a suitcase, and didn’t return for hours.

— Orange County Sheriff's Office (@OrangeCoSheriff) February 26, 2020

Bonne was booked on Wednesday for second-degree murder. She does not yet have an attorney or a court date.

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