Senate Bill 1146 being considered by California legislators, if passed, would remove a venerable exemption from anti-discrimination laws for religious institutions, potentially exposing state colleges to civil rights' lawsuits from students and employees. Some university officials say the exemption allows them to develop campus policies that are in-line with their faith, and that this new measure is an attack on their free exercise of religion. Bill supporters say it would be the first law of its kind in the nation and would create a safe space for LGBTQ students and staff.
At present, religious institutions can assign housing based on sex, not gender identity, as well as discipline students for violating moral codes of conduct, which can include anti-transgender or strict sexuality provisions, reports CBS.
Author of SB1146, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, said it would require universities who are granted a Title IX exemption to disclose that information to the California Student Aid Commission and disseminate the information to students and staff. The bill also would allow an individual who has encountered discrimination at a school claiming a Title IX exemption to pursue a remedy through a civil action.
"All students deserve to feel safe in institutions of higher education, regardless of whether they are public or private," said Lara.
"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."
The bill is supported by the Los Angeles LGBT Center, Equality California and the Transgender Law Center.
Derry Connolly, president of John Paul the Great Catholic University in Escondido, said he believes the bill tries to force schools to "change 2,000-year-old teachings to be in-line with LGBT ideology."
"They're putting a gun to our head: 'Either change the way you believe and practice your faith, or you won't be able to participate in Cal Grant,'" said John Jackson, president of William Jessup University, which has campuses in Rocklin and San Jose. "We want a license to be faithful and don't want the state to have a license to discriminate."
Not all religious schools publicly oppose the bill or have been granted federal exemptions. Of the estimated 32 faith-based higher education institutions in California, at least seven since 2009 requested exemptions from Title IX, according to the U.S. Department of Education website.
"Prospective students have a right to know if a university they are considering attending discriminates against LGBT people," said Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California. "This bill would let any school seeking to skirt federal anti-discrimination protections know that its policies would be public, and that anyone discriminated against would have legal recourse."