Students at California’s religious colleges have dodged a very large caliber bullet . . . for now.
As explained in a prior blog post, earlier versions of California Senate Bill 1146 would have forced the state’s religious colleges to choose between following their faith and accepting students who receive state financial aid.
Many of the state’s religious schools draw their faculty and employees from among those who share the institution’s religious convictions. Some consider a student’s faith in admissions. Many maintain sexual conduct standards and use biological sex – rather than subjective “gender identity” – in housing, athletics, and other contexts.
Earlier versions of SB1146 would have pressured religious schools to abandon these practices. If the schools refused, they would have been excluded from the state’s Cal Grant program, under which taxpayers help economically disadvantaged students attend the school of their choice.
Following the California Legislature’s July recess, the bill passed the Assembly Appropriations Committee, having already cleared the Senate, and the Assembly Higher Education and Judiciary Committees. The bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), subsequently revised the bill to drop its most devastating provisions. Schools must still report their possession of the existing state law and Title IX religious exemptions to the California Student Aid Commission, which must publish a list of exempt schools on its website. In addition, schools must disclose their exemptions to current and prospective students, faculty members, and employees in a variety of settings.
Sen. Lara expressed satisfaction that the newest version of the bill would “shed the light on the appalling and unacceptable discrimination against LGBT students at these private religious institutions throughout California” and pledged to introduce similar legislation in the next legislative session.
It is hard to know precisely why Sen. Lara altered his bill. California’s religious schools and their constituents vigorously appealed to the legislature to protect their freedom. Prominent California religious leaders expressed opposition to the bill. The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission facilitated a separate interfaith statement expressing serious concerns about SB1146.
Some suggest that pressure from the ACLU and Planned Parenthood to impose even greater restrictions on the religious exercise of California’s faith-based schools precipitated Sen. Lara’s tactical pause. The ACLU has reportedly threatened litigation against religious schools, suggesting that their admissions, student conduct, and employment policies violate current law.
Because of these threats, and the likelihood of similar legislation in the 2017 session, California’s faith-based schools are continuing their efforts to dispel myths about their response to homosexuality and gender dysphoria, and to explain the value their institutions provide to the state’s educational system and to the lives of their students.