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Conservatives Hit Back at California Bill Seeking to Strip Religious Exemptions from Most Christian Colleges

( [email protected] ) Jun 24, 2016 11:42 AM EDT
Conservative groups are pushing back against a California bill that some believe could make up to 40 Christian universities susceptible to lawsuits from homosexual and transgender students.
Faith-based schools are currently allowed to request an exemption if the “application of the law would conflict with specific tenets of the religion.” Stock Photo

Conservative groups are pushing back against a California bill that some believe could make up to 40 Christian universities susceptible to lawsuits from homosexual and transgender students.

S.B. 1146, introduced in February by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, seeks to minimize the number of California colleges and universities that are able to claim exemptions from federal Title IX anti-discrimination law, applying the exemption only to seminaries and schools of divinity.

"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance," Title IX reads in part.

The bill also requires religious colleges that get state funds to disclose their religious beliefs about homosexuality to applicants as well as to display on campus their exemption from anti-discrimination law.

"Each postsecondary educational institution in this state that claims an exemption pursuant to Section 901(a)(3) of the federal Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 ... shall disclose to current and prospective students, faculty members, and employees the basis for claiming the exemption," the bill reads.

In a statement, Lara said he hopes to close the "loophole" in current federal and state law: "California has established strong protections for the LGBTQ community 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," he said back in April.

Historically, the law has applied to discrimination against women and in situations related to girls who desire to participate in sports programs. However, LifeSiteNews reports that recently, the Department of Education announced it interprets Title IX exemptions as also applying to "gender identity" and sexual orientation.

Fox News notes that the legislation has already passed the Senate and is expected to clear hurdles in the Assembly.

Currently, faith-based schools are allowed to request an exemption if the "application of the law would conflict with specific tenets of the religion." Last month, the U.S. Department of Education released a list of schools that have requested exemptions - six of which are in California.

Several Christian universities have condemned the bill, expressing concern that it will force faith-based schools to violate their Biblical convictions on gender, and leaves schools that do not train pastors without protection.

"It discriminates against religious colleges," John Jackson, the president of William Jessup University, told Fox News' Todd Starnes. "If we don't play ball with state - the state will attempt to drive us out of existence."

"The passage of this bill would destroy the foundation upon which this university was founded," he added. "Systematically discriminating against religious institutions and preventing student access and choice to Christian higher education is bad policy and will have a negative effect on the state of California."

Jackson emphasized that the Sacramento-based school is "not willing to change" its policies regarding sexual orientation and gender identity: "Religious freedoms are in play in California," he said. "Ultimately, I'm concerned that what begins in California rolls across the nation."

Lee Wilhite, vice president of university communications at Biola University, said the bill "functionally eliminates the religious liberty of all California faith-based universities."

"The danger for Biola University is that it prevents us from carrying out our mission the way we have for 108 years," he told Fox. "It would eliminate our ability to continue our mission. That's why it has our attention."

Wilhite also slammed the idea that LGBT students are discriminated against on their campuses: "We don't tolerate harassment or bullying of any of our students," he said.