The religious liberty of California’s faith-based colleges hangs in the balance in the state legislature.
The State Assembly is considering a bill — already approved by the Senate — that Christian and other religious universities and colleges say would eliminate their religious freedom and that of their students. The legislation, Senate Bill 1146, affects any “postsecondary educational institution that receives, or benefits from, state financial assistance or enrolls students who receive state student financial aid” and would limit a religious exemption in nondiscrimination law to seminaries and other schools that train students for pastoral ministry, theological teaching or another religious vocation.
The proposal marks “the biggest threat to Christian higher education in the history of the United States of America,” said Southern Baptist academic leader R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Council of Seminary Presidents.
Opponents of the measure — which they say would impact as many as 42 institutions — contend its effect would be to bar Christian and other religious schools from requiring:
- A profession of faith by their students and faculty.
- Standards of sexual conduct.
- Policies on restrooms and locker rooms based on biology instead of gender identity.
- Integration of faith in curriculum.
- Chapel attendance.
The legislation would not explicitly prohibit such policies but leave institutions exposed to lawsuits for alleged discrimination. It also would require schools to disclose their reasons for claiming a religious exemption under the state’s higher education law to current and prospective students, faculty and employees.
Jeff Iorg, president of the SBC’s Gateway Seminary in the state, confirmed to Baptist Press that the seminary would fall under the bill’s exemptions.
More broadly, religious freedom and Christian educational leaders are calling for the legislation to be amended or defeated.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, “California’s hostility toward many excellent colleges and universities is unwarranted and indefensible. California, like other states, has benefited immensely from the education that its citizens have received from institutions like Biola University and California Baptist University.
“Making sexual politics a litmus test for who can fully participate in the public square is a disaster for every American,” Moore said in written comments for Baptist Press. “My prayer is that California’s legislature will reconsider this backhanded attack on religious liberty, and continue to support students and universities that serve their communities.”
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SOURCE: Florida Baptist Witness, Tom Strode