New California Bill Could Deprive Students from Attending Christian Universities


California state lawmakers are closely considering a bill that would force Christian colleges to give up their religious convictions or lose state funding.

The sponsors of Senate Bill 1146 say it will protect LGBTQ students from discrimination but Christian colleges believe it will ultimately deprive students of the ability to attend the school of their choice.

Margarita Ramirez grew up in a low-income family in California’s Central Valley and graduated from Azusa Pacific University, an evangelical institution in suburban Los Angeles in 2012. Her excellent grades, a generous Azusa scholarship and state financial aid known as Cal Grants made it possible.

Now, she’s concerned that SB 1146 will prevent future students from enjoying the same financial benefits that she did.

“It is precisely students like myself that are going to miss out,” she said. “This bill isn’t taking away money from schools. It’s taking away money from students.”

Prohibiting Religious Convictions

More than 64,000 students attend 16 Christian colleges in California and many utilize Cal Grants and other state and federal funding to pay their bills. At Azusa, one in four students use Cal Grants to attend, the majority of which are first-generation, non-Caucasian Americans.

At William Jessup University, just outside of Sacramento, one in three students use the grants, which pay as much as $10,000 a year.

“It’s a substantial part of our budget,” President John Jackson said. “If this bill becomes law, a student may not be able to bring that aid to William Jessup University unless we change our policies on sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s not a mean-spirited thing. We just are convinced, biblically speaking, that gender matters, that sexuality matters, and that marriage matters.”

State Sen. Ricardo Lara, the bill’s sponsor, says SB 1146 will protect LGBTQ students. In an April 6 press release, Lara cited concern about faith-based schools that had requested a religious exemption from Title 9, which the federal government recently decided would include the prohibition of discrimination based on general identity and sexual orientation.

“California has established strong protections for the LGBTQ community,” Lara said. “And private universities should not be able to use faith as an excuse to discriminate and avoid complying with state laws. No university should have a license to discriminate.”

But Shirley Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, says the SB 1146 sponsors don’t have a case.

“Never did they go to the Christian college campuses and actually ask for the facts,” she told CBN News. “They presumed that people are either expelled or somehow denied admissions which is untrue.”

Hoogstra said that Christian colleges are committed to working with students around complicated issues of sexuality and gender identity while at the same time retaining their religious convictions. She takes issue with parts of the bill that would prevent faith-based schools from using their religious beliefs as criteria in admissions or hiring decisions.

“If you can’t hire the people who are going to teach and administrate according to your principles, what difference does it make if you called yourself a particular religious institution?” she asked.

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Heather Sells