“Your funding or your faith: choose one only.”
That is message the California Senate sent to religious colleges and their students when it passed SB 1146 on May 26. SB 1146 would amend the California Equity in Higher Education Act (EHEA), which forbids schools receiving state student aid from “discriminating” on the basis of religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression (among other things). The current version of the EHEA protects religious schools from applications of the Act inconsistent with their religious beliefs. SB 1146 would dramatically shrink the exemption, essentially limiting its availability to seminaries that train ministers.
SB 1146 threatens the freedom of Christian colleges and universities to maintain their religious character while accepting state student aid. If amended by SB 1146, the EHEA would forbid schools like Biola, William Jessup, and Azusa Pacific from considering religion in admissions, requiring students to participate in religious activities, and otherwise “discriminating” on the basis of religion. SB 1146 would also force schools to choose between maintaining religious standards of student sexual conduct and keeping state student aid. SB 1146 might even threaten the freedom of schools to consider religion and moral conduct in selecting their faculty and staff.
Most schools are subject to the EHEA because they welcome economically disadvantaged students with Cal Grants (state tuition assistance) to attend. Under SB 1146, if a school refuses to relinquish its religious character, it will not be able to participate in the Cal Grant program without exposing itself to substantial liability. Indeed, if SB 1146 becomes law, a school may not be able to sign the Cal Grant “institutional participation agreement” and thus may not be able to participate in the program at all.
It appears as though SB 1146’s sponsors proposed the legislation primarily to express their unhappiness with religious colleges claiming the religious exemption from federal Title IX. That statute, of course, forbids sex discrimination by schools receiving federal financial assistance. Many religious schools claimed the religious exemption after the federal Department of Education began interpreting Title IX to reach gender identity discrimination. Bill supporters have been able to identify only a single concrete instance in which they believe a religious school unjustly treated a gender dysphoric student. They have identified no instance in which a school allegedly mistreated a non-believer. Religious colleges and universities in California—and across the nation—treat gender dysphoric and same-sex attracted students with dignity and respect.
SB 1146 passed the California Senate on a party-line vote. The Assembly Higher Education and Judiciary Committees are scheduled to hold hearings on the bill this month. If those committees approve the bill, it will move to the Appropriations Committee and then the Assembly floor. If it passes, California Governor Jerry Brown will likely be presented with the bill in August.
Gregory S. Baylor, Esq.,serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he is the director of the Religious Schools Team.