Prominent evangelical leaders Russell Moore, Jim Daly and Rick Warren have joined a coalition of pastors, college officials and others from different religions in condemning a California bill that would limit religious exemptions for schools and open faith-based universities 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. The proposed law, also known as the Equity in Higher Education Act, could make up to 40 Christian universities susceptible to lawsuits from homosexual and transgender students.
The statement from the interfaith coalition, titled "Protecting the future of religious higher education," was published on the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission's website Tuesday. It says the proposed law, if enacted, would be "harmful to the free exercise of religion in higher education" and "would severely restrict the ability of religious education institutions to set expectations of belief and conduct that align with the institution's religious tenets."
"This legislation puts into principle that majoritarian beliefs are more deserving of legal protection, and that minority viewpoints are deserving of government harassment," reads the statement.
"Legislation of this nature threatens the integrity not only of religious institutions, but of any viewpoint wishing to exercise basic American freedoms, not least of which is the freedom of conscience."
The statement is a signed by those of varying faiths, including Jewish, Muslim and Christians. While the signatories "do not necessarily agree with one another's religious views, but we agree on the necessity of the liberty to exercise these views."
"Some of us disagree with the sexual ethics of orthodox Jews, Christians, and Muslims giving rise to this legislation, but we are unified in our resistance to the government setting up its own system of orthodoxy," it reads. "Where the state can encroach on one religion's free exercise, it can just as easily trample on any other religion's free exercise. We therefore join in solidarity across religious lines to speak against Senate Bill 1146."
The statement has signatures from people such as Moore, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Warren, the pastor and founder of Saddleback Church; Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family; Richard Stearns, president of World Vision U.S. and Hamza Yusuf Hanson, president of Zaytuna College, to name a few.
In a statement, Sen. 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.
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.
In a press release, Moore argued that "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."
Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, also condemned SB 1146 as an attack on religious liberty.
"The California Assembly is voting to change Christian policies and practices to comply with the new doctrines of California state legislators," he stated. "The bill is a threat to the mutually beneficial relationship that has existed between faith and higher education for the entire history of our nation."