A Victory for Religious Freedom at Christian Universities in California


A California lawmaker who is sponsoring a bill that would have allowed the use of taxpayer dollars to punish and publicly shame Christian universities for operating according to their beliefs has removed an offending provision from the legislation.

In announcing his legislation in April, state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D), sponsor of SB 1146, had referred to his action of denying First Amendment rights to religious schools as closing a “loophole that allows private universities to discriminate against students and staff based on their gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.”

Using the Obama administration’s threat-based style of governance, Lara’s measure would have required any Christian university that does not treat LGBT individuals as a protected class of people to do so if it wants any of its students to receive financial aid.

As David French reports at National Review, Lara said – even as he pulled the provision, “The goal for me has always been to shed the light on the appalling and unacceptable discrimination against LGBT students at these private religious institutions throughout California.”

French observes what Lara hoped to achieve with his legislation:

The bill, SB 1146, requires even private Christian universities to comply with extraordinarily broad anti-discrimination provisions if they accept even a single student who receives state financial assistance. This means opening single-sex dorms to transgender students. This means requiring schools to acknowledge and respect same-sex marriages to the same extent that they acknowledge and respect traditional marriages. This means requiring schools to draw no distinction between same-sex behavior and heterosexual behavior in student conduct policies.

And that’s just the start. The bill also purports to publicly shame Christian colleges, requiring them to submit documentation to the state — for publication — in the event they choose to exercise their constitutional and statutory rights to opt out of Title IX, a federal statute that explicitly creates exemptions for religious colleges.

The Cardinal Newman Society, which serves to defend Catholic education, refers to Lara’s removal of the most offensive provision as “an acknowledgment of the bill’s highly discriminatory intent.” Despite the change, the Newman Society asserts, “The portion of the bill that remains is equally discriminatory against Catholics and a vindictive action against colleges that have legally and appropriately protected their religious freedom.”

As French explains, Lara is moving ahead with the bill that will still require religious schools to reveal if they have an exemption and report to the state their disciplinary actions for violating morality codes.

The measure was amended after more than 140 education, political, and religious leaders who value religious liberty joined together to confront the issue. The group, which included representatives of Catholic, Muslim, Mormon, Jewish, evangelical, and other religious traditions, observed perhaps one of the most unacceptable aspects of the legislation:

The California Assembly has proposed legislation that is harmful to the free exercise of religion in higher education. In particular, the legislation disadvantages low-income minority students who want an education at private religious colleges. Though it purports to eliminate discrimination, Senate Bill 1146 results in its own form of discrimination by stigmatizing and coercively punishing religious beliefs that disagree on contested matters related to human sexuality. If SB 1146 were to pass, it would deny students’ ability to participate in state grant programs—programs that exist to help low-income students, and which are overwhelmingly used by racial minorities—at schools that are found in violation of the bill. Moreover, it would severely restrict the ability of religious education institutions to set expectations of belief and conduct that align with the institution’s religious tenets. While we do not all agree on religious matters, we all agree that the government has no place in discriminating against poor religious minorities or in pitting a religious education institution’s faith-based identity against its American identity. This legislation puts into principle that majoritarian beliefs are more deserving of legal protection, and that minority viewpoints are deserving of government harassment. Legislation of this nature threatens the integrity not only of religious institutions, but of any viewpoint wishing to exercise basic American freedoms, not least of which is the freedom of conscience.

“The lessons here are clear,” writes French. “Never surrender. Always seek to persuade. Prepare to protest. Exercise your constitutional rights and apply political pressure to the same extent that leftist activists do.”

Cardinal Newman Society President Patrick Reilly also provides a warning.

“California is becoming a very hostile place for Catholic education, despite its rich Catholic heritage and historical embrace of religious freedom,” he said, adding, “Not only does this vindictive bill harm Catholic colleges, but if it becomes a precedent for similar laws around the country, it will cause widespread harm to Catholic families who deserve the freedom to choose faithful Catholic education.”


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