California Assembly Higher Ed Committee rejects Student Religious Liberty bill

Several Christian groups have been derecognized at Californian universities because they wanted Christian leaders.

The universities say the desire violated their non-discrimination policies.

The California Assembly’s Higher Education Committee has rejected a bill that would have protected religious student groups from persecution at the state’s public universities.

Assembly Bill 1212, which was introduced by Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield), would have required “the governing board of each community college district, the Trustees of the California State University, and the Board of Regents of the University of California to adopt a policy prohibiting their respective campuses from discriminating against a student organization, as specified, for imposing certain requirements on its leaders or voting members.” Fulfilling the requirements of the bill would have been one of the conditions of receiving “state funds for student financial assistance.”

The bill went down in defeat 9-2, with two abstaining.

According to a letter from the Christian Legal Society in support of the bill, legislatures or assemblies in Tennessee, Ohio, Oklahoma, Virginia, Idaho, North Carolina, and Arizona have passed similar legislation protecting the rights of student groups. Letters of support were also filed by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Chi Alpha Campus Ministries—which saw one of its chapters kicked off campus by the CSU system—and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, which has also had chapters derecognized by the CSU system.

Joseph Cohn, the Legislative and Policy Director for FIRE, testified in support of the bill. So-called “all-comers” policies, Cohn said, “interfere with the ability of student organizations to articulate and voice the message of their choice.”

Nate Honeycutt, co-founder of CSU Student Organization for Free Association (SOFA), also testified on behalf of AB 1212.

“We believe Grove’s legislation will protect the plurality of student organizations on California public university campuses,” Honeycutt testified. “It will also protect student groups from having to choose between compromising their beliefs and values to maintain campus-recognition, or standing firm on their principles and thereby being derecognized and kicked off campus.”

AB 1212, also known as the “California Student Freedom of Association Act,” arrived on the heels of discrimination allegations in the California State University system. In 2014, the CSU system generated controversy when it derecognized the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) because of the group’s requirement that its leaders be Christian. Then, this past March, the CSU system was again in the news after it kicked Christian student group Chi Alpha off of the CSU-Stanislaus campus because of similar leadership requirements. Both times, the group’s leadership requirements allegedly violated CSU’s anti-discrimination policies. .

Greg Burt, the communications director for the Assemblywoman, told Campus Reform that the need for the bill was first brought to Grove’s attention when she saw “all the Intervarsity Christian Clubs being kicked off CSU campuses.” However, Burt cautioned, “this issue doesn’t just affect religious groups, but any college club formed around a particular set of beliefs or points of view.”

Religious liberty has been a controversial issue in the wake of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But, Burt said, the California Student Freedom of Association Act was about more than just religious liberty.

“All clubs who hold unpopular views are threatened. We should be about protecting the freedom of association rights of everyone, not just those we agree with.”

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