California to 'punish' faith-based colleges for 'holding wrong views'

California state lawmakers are poised to advance legislation they say will promote greater equity at the state’s colleges and universities, but religious freedom advocates say it’s just another attempt to advance the LGBT agenda by removing the ability of schools to determine their own criteria for selecting students and personnel and establishing codes of conduct.

The legislation is known as SB 1146, which amends the California Equity in Higher Education Act, or EHEA. As it currently stands, the statute forbids discrimination based on religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. But it also contains a significant exemption for religious colleges and universities. SB 1146 would change that.

“That state of affairs is unsatisfactory to the LGBT lobby in California. They want to dramatically restrict the scope of that exemption so that a liberal arts religious institution can no longer maintain, enforce and apply faith-based conduct standards for their students and employees,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Gregory Baylor, who also directs the group’s Religious Schools Team.

He says the problems with this are obvious.

“In essence, it restricts freedom of Christ-centered institutions of higher education in California that participate in the state tuition assistance program known as Cal Grants,” he said.

Given that countless other schools in California do not use religious criteria to evaluate applicants, staff and conduct, Baylor says there is no good reason to pursue this legislation.

“The reality of the matter is that these schools that have more traditional stances on religious issues, on moral issues, on sexual issues, are in a very tiny minority,” said Baylor.

“This bill is a solution in search of a problem. There is no problem, except in the eyes of these legislators that these schools hold ‘the wrong views’ on these controversial issues. So it doesn’t really accomplish anything but it does punish these schools for having these religious views,” said Baylor.

In addition, Baylor says removing the exemption could open Christian and other religious schools to a blizzard of lawsuits.

“You can imagine what sort of things could be called ‘religious discrimination’ by opponents of these sorts of institutions: required prayer, required attendance at weekly chapel exercises, required taking of classes that address theological issues from the perspective of the school’s faith,” said Baylor.

“That is a very serious problem for these religious institutions that want to maintain their religious character by what they do and who comprises their communities,” said Baylor.

Baylor says the Christian schools are fiercely opposed to such controls.

“This is about student choice. Many of them would like to choose a faith-based environment. They shouldn’t be disqualified from doing that simply because their school actually is religious and lives out its religious beliefs,” said Baylor.

SB 1146 has already passed in the California State Senate. Baylor says a series of committee meetings are scheduled in the State Assembly. Passage could come late this summer or early fall and head to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown, who is very likely to sign it.

Baylor says the fight goes on to change the minds of lawmakers but he knows the math is working against him as the Democrats dominate the legislature.

“We think that if legislators in the assembly understand that this is really an assault on students, on low income and often minority populations of students, that that might motivate them to protect those students and protect those students that they have,” said Baylor.

“At the same time, there is a political reality, that’s there’s a two-thirds majority of Democrats and they tend to be more sympathetic to the gay rights agenda,” said Baylor, noting the bill passed the senate largely along party lines.

If SB 1146 does become law, Baylor expects legal challenges to follow soon after.

“I do think the bill violates constitutional protections of religious freedom, of freedom of association, equal protection of the laws. It would be very unsurprising to me if some of these schools and the students who would be harmed would commence litigation if this bill becomes law,” said Baylor.

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