The Latest: Education Department responds to ACLU letter

The Associated Press
FILE - In this July 16, 2019, file photo, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos listens during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. The Trump administration is threatening to cut grant funding to a Middle East studies program at the University of North Carolina and Duke University, saying it’s misusing federal funding to advance “ideological priorities” and unfairly promotes “the positive aspects of Islam” but not Christianity or Judaism. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
FILE - In this July 16, 2019, file photo, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos listens during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington. The Trump administration is threatening to cut grant funding to a Middle East studies program at the University of North Carolina and Duke University, saying it’s misusing federal funding to advance “ideological priorities” and unfairly promotes “the positive aspects of Islam” but not Christianity or Judaism. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

The Latest on a request to the Education Department to revoke a threat to cut grant funding to a Middle East studies program (all times local):

5:10 p.m.

The U.S. Education Department says its review of a Middle East studies program is not "anti-Muslim or pro-any other group."

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A letter sent Friday by the American Civil Liberties Union urged Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to revoke a threat to cut grant funding to the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies unless it revises its programs.

The ACLU says the Education Department is abusing grant rules to push its own viewpoint.

DeVos ordered an investigation in June after Republican U.S. Rep. George Holding of North Carolina relayed complaints the consortium had used taxpayer money to host a conference with "severe anti-Israeli bias and anti-Semitic rhetoric."

A department spokeswoman says "it is absurd to be accused of bigotry for recommending the inclusion of religious and ethnic minorities."

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12:30 p.m.

The American Civil Liberties Union is pushing the U.S. Education Department to drop its investigation into a Middle East studies program the agency says has focused too much on the "positive aspects of Islam" and misused grant money.

A letter from the group's Washington office on Friday urged Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to revoke a threat to cut grant funding to the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies unless it revises its programs.

The ACLU says the department is abusing grant rules to push its own viewpoint.

The presidents of Smith College and four other Massachusetts schools also released a letter this week saying the inquiry threatens academic freedom.

Department officials did not immediately comment. UNC officials previously said they believe the program is in line with grant rules.

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