Southern Baptist ERLC-Led Coalition Urges Defeat of California Bill that Would Violate Religious Freedom

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A Southern Baptist-led, multi-faith coalition has urged California legislators to abandon a bill it says would violate religious freedom in higher education.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) issued a statement today (Aug. 9) calling for members of the State Assembly to oppose Senate Bill 1146. The appeal — signed by more than 140 religious, academic, legal, policy and media leaders — says the legislation would especially harm low-income, minority students who seek to attend religious universities and colleges. The measure also would seriously limit the capability of schools to establish standards consistent with their religious beliefs, the endorsers say.

In the statement, the signers — including Southern Baptists and other evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Jews and Muslims — acknowledge they do not all agree on religious issues but they “all agree that the government has no place in discriminating against poor religious minorities or in pitting a religious education institution’s faith-based identity against its American identity.”

The California proposal has drawn increasing attention and opposition, especially after the Senate passed the bill in late May. The legislation 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 Assembly reportedly could vote on the proposal by Aug. 19.

One effect of the measure, opponents say, would be to deny Cal Grants — which provide funds for low-income students, three-fourths of whom are minorities — to those who decide to attend religiously affiliated, non-profit universities or colleges in the state.

SB 1146, foes contend, also would effectively bar Christian and other religious schools from enforcing such requirements as a profession of faith by their students and faculty, standards of sexual conduct, restroom and locker room policies based on biology instead of gender identity and the integration of faith in curriculum.

While Sen. Ricardo Lara, the bill’s Democratic sponsor, says his goal is to protect gay and transgender students from discrimination at private schools, SB 1146 “results in its own form of discrimination by stigmatizing and coercively punishing religious beliefs that disagree on contested matters related to human sexuality,” the ERLC-initiated statement says.

ERLC President Russell Moore said the primary difficulty with the bill is “it seeks to suppress and undermine dissent, harming students along the way.”

“Applying legal or political pressure on institutions that disagree with the cultural majority of the moment is not merely unwise or unfair — it is un-American,” Moore said in a news release that accompanied the release of the statement. “A healthy American culture is one in which ideas can freely be discussed and debated, in good faith, among people who, though they disagree, would defend the right of the other to participate.”

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SOURCE: Baptist Press
Tom Strode