California Bill Threatens Christian Colleges

Senate Bill 1146 could inhibit colleges' religious practices.

By Lydia Goerner Published on June 23, 2016

A California senate bill being debated this week seeks to make it more difficult for California Christian colleges to obtain faith-based exemptions.

Senate Bill 1146 targets colleges who receive religious exemptions from federal Title IX, a law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally funded educational programs. Title IX also requires colleges to disclose the reason for exemptions to students, faculty members, employees and the Student Aid Commission, according to Campus Reform.

The senate bill was authored by California Senator Ricardo Lara in February. It could inhibit crucial aspects of Christian colleges, Christian Today reported. Forty-two colleges in California currently qualify for religious exemptions.

If SB 1146 is passed, Christian universities will not be able to mandate chapel attendance, religious studies classes or have corporate prayer in classes and convocations. These are requirements for students at many Christian schools, but under this bill, students would be able to sue the school for discrimination if those requirements remained.

“These institutions would no longer be able to require core units of Bible courses,” according to a Biola University statement. “Athletic teams would no longer be able to lead faith-based community service programmes.”

“In other words, it threatens every practice that makes religious institutions distinct from secular institutions,” wrote Holly Scheer for The Federalist.

“It seems sensible that if you don’t want an education imbued with the values of a religion — any religion — attending classes at a religious school would be a poor choice for you,” she commented.

Scheer said bills like this set precedents for what is acceptable and that this one “may open the door for civil suits that have the potential to ultimately eradicate religious activities from public life.”

John Jackson, the president of William Jessup University, made his case against the bill in an opinion piece for the Sacramento Bee:

Students choose to attend faith-based universities because they find a place of safety and freedom. The universities provide residential facilities that are clearly delineated by gender and supported by a caring staff. … The passage of SB 1146 would destroy that time-honored foundation and undercut the very fabric of higher education, which advocates for freedom of opinion and discourse.

In a comment to The Stream, Jackson added that the bill “has the potential to affect everything from admissions, housing and student life and experience in the classroom and beyond.”

Jackson, who has been the president of the Christian college for five years, said William Jessup University has been working hard to fight the bill, working alongside an association of private colleges and faith-based schools in California and alerted constituencies.

In April, LGBT activists were granted their request for the names of colleges granted religious exemptions to be published. President Obama’s Department of Education publicly named the institutions receiving exemptions from Title IX’s transgender mandates.

Ed Source talked with bill supporters who insist that religious institutions are “using their faith as a shield for religious discrimination.” According to the article:

In Biola’s 2014 letter seeking a federal religious exemption, the university said its biblical beliefs affirm only heterosexual, gender-conforming people and monogamous, married intimate relationships. Biola requested the right to expel transgender students and to refuse to admit, house or accommodate them. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights responded that Biola does not meet the criteria of being controlled by a religious organization and requested more information. No decision to approve or deny the waiver has yet been announced.

Jackson said opposing Senate Bill 1146 is not discriminatory. “The Constitution of the United States provides for the rights of religion and conscience,” Jackson said. “Students voluntarily choose to attend William Jessup University and do so because of our safe, loving and respectful environment. What is discriminatory is to demand that schools surrender their Biblical and religious convictions in order to participate in the state’s higher education system.”

Last spring, the LGBT group Campus Pride called for the NCAA to disinvest from schools that get a Title IX exemption. The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities said the group “mischaracterizes our institutions and their policies.”

Roger Serverino, Director of the Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, said religious exemptions have not been detrimental in higher education. “There is no good policy rationale for stripping exemptions that have worked well for decades and have helped foster, not hinder, diversity in education,” Serverino told The Daily Signal.

Christian colleges throughout California are taking action and protesting the bill. Concordia University Irvine President Kurt Krueger said in a letter to Concordia friends and family that the bill would challenge college’s “ability to continue offering a Christ-centered education to our students.”

Krueger said the bill does not allow Christian institutions to integrate faith and education, something Concordia University strives to do.

“The bill effectively eliminates the religious exemption under current law that allows Christian colleges and universities to operate in accordance with their beliefs, including the freedom to hire only Christian faculty and staff,” Krueger wrote.

According to Jackson, the Committee on Higher Education Assembly met Tuesday to discuss the bill and the Judiciary Committee will meet next week.

“We remain hopeful that the legislators and people of California will facilitate a respectful and mutual environment for all people of California, including people of faith,” Jackson said.

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