CA bill would restrict religious rights of Christian colleges

A California bill intended to protect LGBT people from discrimination in colleges could also deprive as many as 42 Christian colleges of their First Amendment rights.

State Sen. Ricardo Lara (D) is the sponsor of Senate Bill 1146, which would reduce the list of colleges and universities eligible for religious exemption in California solely to organizations that prepare students to become ministers of their religion, enter upon some other religious vocation, or teach theological subjects pertaining to religion.

The bill targets colleges that seek religious exemptions from federal Title IX provisions, which is the federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity, and also forces colleges that do receive a religious exemption to disclose its reason for exemption to students, faculty members, employees, and the Student Aid Commission.

Under the bill, students at Christian universities are no longer required to take certain theology or religious studies classes, attend chapel, or have corporate prayer in convocations or classes.

Many Christian colleges require their students to take religious study classes or attend worship, but under the bill, students would be able to sue the school if such requirements were enforced. Students could also sue for discrimination if a Christian college decided to exclude a student who might object to pervasive religious practices on campus.

"These institutions would no longer be able to require chapel attendance for students, an integral part of the learning experience at faith-based universities. These institutions would no longer be able to require core units of Bible courses. Athletic teams would no longer be able to lead faith-based community service programmes,” Biola University, one of the affected colleges in California, told Christian Today.

According to Gregory Baylor, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, the exemption for religious colleges and universities is “unsatisfactory” to the LGBT lobby in California, and the LGBT community wants to dramatically restrict the scope of that exemption.

“You can imagine what sort of things could be called ‘religious discrimination’ by opponents of these sorts of institutions: required prayer, required attendance at weekly chapel exercises, required taking of classes that address theological issues from the perspective of the school’s faith,” Baylor told WND.

Many opponents of the bill, such as Roger Severino, Director of The Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, claim that it is an assault on religious educational institutions that wish to stay true to their religious identity.

“There is no good policy rationale for stripping exemptions that have worked well for decades and have helped foster, not hinder, diversity in education,” Severino told The Daily Signal.

Senate Bill 1146 passed the state Senate and is now pending in the Assembly.

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