James Madison, author of the Bill of Rights, continued to roll over in his grave this week as a bill that would undermine the religious freedom of faith-based colleges and universities, SB-1146, awaits approval from the state’s General Assembly. It has been in the amending process over the past few months and made it through the state senate about two weeks ago.
The bill is an amendment to the Equity in Higher Education Act that proposes to remove religious exemption from lawsuits regarding beliefs about gender and sexuality. In essence, as Andrew Walker writing for National Review, puts it, “the bill strong-arms religious schools into an untenable position: Either compromise their religious identity or risk losing access to grants and government-backed financial assistance like Cal Grants.” Seminaries would maintain their previous exemptions as they are specifically intended for pastoral training.
Biola University, a nondenominational college in La Mirada, CA, provided a list of how their own and about 40 other institutions’ religious identity could be compromised. The list included restrictions on the integration of faith into curriculum, the availability of spiritual care, and the types of service projects allowable for athletic teams. These policies and services are what makes these faith-based schools, well, faith-based schools. If this bill becomes law, the government will get to decide what religious tenets are taught and practiced at these schools.
I must pause to note that this bill is not actually regarding discrimination because current California law already prohibits such discrimination, only exempting institutions that are “controlled by a religious organization if the application would not be consistent with the religious tenets of that organization.” Under the new bill, only seminaries would remain exempt. Even here, this is not to be understood as a pejorative discrimination against who homosexual people are. Christians are called to love and minister to the LGBTQ community, but there is a fundamental disagreement between the two groups on the topics of gender identity and sexuality, things that are essential to who we are as human beings and dictate certain policies on a university’s campus.
John Jackson, president of William Jessup Univeristy in Rocklin, CA, pointed to a significant side-effect of the bill in an interview with the Daily Signal. He remarked: “It’s actually an attempt to decrease diversity in higher education rather than increase it…Students attend our schools voluntarily, and we think that the senator is making a grave mistake with this bill.” A liberal effort designed to decrease diversity? Well, diversity of opinion that is.
I recently graduated from a small Christian liberal arts university in California, so this is a deeply personal issue to me. I happily attended chapels, participated on an athletic team, and took various courses that fell in line with the university’s religious beliefs. It would be a shame to see my alma mater and others like it strong-armed out of its identity simply because it did not fall in line with the California liberals’ totalitarian agenda.