New California bill threatens religious freedom in faith-based colleges, claim educators

California State Senator Ricardo Lara. 23 October 2012, 09:54 | Wikimedia Commons/Neon Tommy

A new bill in California, which is pending in the Assembly, violates religious freedom in faith-based colleges and universities in the state, according to school authorities.

The bill, known as Senate Bill 1146 and sponsored by Sen. Ricardo Lara, prohibits discrimination based on a person's religion, gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation. In the California Equity in Higher Education Act, faith-based schools enjoy certain religious exemptions without threatening their Cal Grant Program.

However, SB 1146 would change all that.

"This bill would limit the religious exemption from the Equity in Higher Education Act to certain educational programs and activities of a postsecondary educational institution that is controlled by a religious organization," SB 1146 states.

Gregory Baylor, a senior counsel to the Alliance Defending Freedom, said the legislation aims to "dramatically restrict the scope" of the exemption so that religious institutions will not be able to uphold standards based on their faith.

"In essence, it restricts freedom of Christ-centered institutions of higher education in California that participate in the state tuition assistance program known as Cal Grants," Baylor said, according to WND.

He added that the new bill limits the students' choices, especially those who would prefer schools with a "faith-based environment."

Authorities from faith-based colleges have also spoken out against the bill, which can affect 42 faith-based educational institutions in the state.

In a column for the Christian Post, William Jessup University President John Jackson wrote that the bill is a violation of the First Amendment Act. He said it "effectively eliminates the religious liberty" of faith-based schools that include their students' spiritual life in their educational instruction.

Kurt Krueger, president of Concordia University Irvine, wrote a letter expressing his opposition to the bill and urged the public to not support it. He said the bill will "challenge" Concordia's and other faith-based universities' "ability to continue offering a Christ-centered education to our students."

He encouraged the students and staff of Concordia to pray that the school will be able to continue teaching students in line with its Lutheran Christian beliefs, to inform and educate other people about the reality of the bill and to contact their legislators to express their opposition.

Biola University also issued a statement agains the bill, saying the religious exemption being amended by SB 1146 will apply only to those schools that are meant to train students in pastoral ministry.