California Bill Would Ultimately Erase Religious Schools

California Bill Would Ultimately Erase Religious Schools

Proponents of Senate Bill 1146 say they need to give students grounds to sue religious schools for teaching their religion, because ‘discrimination.’ Whatever happened to freedom of religion?
Holly Scheer
By

People used to expect that attending something sponsored by religious organization required abiding by mores and behavior that religious body professes. There was a simple option for avoiding the ideas or practices of a belief system you don’t agree with: don’t frequent their space. This courteous expectation naturally applied to all religions and expressions of faith.

California is now attempting to end this system of free association that allows people to define their local and religious cultures. California Senate Bill 1146 (SB 1146), which is slated for a vote Tuesday, seeks to limit the religious exemptions from federal Title IX regulations that colleges and universities use for hiring instructors, teaching classes, and conducting student services in line with their faith. Under SB 1146, a college would be eligible for an exemption only for training pastors or theology teachers.

This threatens religious institutions ability to require that students attend daily or weekly chapel services, keep bathrooms and dormitories distinct according to sex, require students to complete theology classes, teach religious ideas in regular coursework, hold corporate prayer at events such as graduation, and so on. In other words, it threatens every practice that makes religious institutions distinct from secular institutions.

“The most troubling provision of this bill limits the religious liberty to integrate faith and learning throughout the educational experience,” said Dr. Kurt Krueger, president of Concordia University Irvine, in a letter about this bill. “The bill effectively eliminates the religious exemption under current law that allows Christian colleges and universities to operate in accordance with their beliefs, including the freedom to hire only Christian faculty and staff. If passed without amendments, the new law would also very likely disqualify students attending California Christian colleges and universities from eligibility for Cal Grants, a key state-level student aid program.”

You can read the text of the bill in full here.

No One Forces People to Attend Religious Schools

The bill came directly after LGBT activists got the Obama administration to release a list of religious higher education institutions that receive exemptions from federal regulations requiring androgynous and secularizing policies, such as sex-eradicated group showers and the freedom to hire partially based on fidelity to strains of philosophy or theology a particular institution promises to uphold.

“Universities [currently] are able to submit an exemption request to the U.S. Department of Education, and are typically granted the exemption by the department. But SB 1146 makes these universities’ biases public, informing students, staff members and other academic institutions ahead of time so that certain individuals can protect themselves from being targets of discrimination…LGBT individuals [may otherwise] have no idea what type of educational institution they are attending or working at, and what sorts of consequences this exemption may have for their health, safety and well-being,” a California legal firm says in its supportive rundown of the bill. There’s no obvious reason a legal firm that specializes in suing over employment law would want expand the ways people can sue regarding employment, right?

Bill supporters say religious teachings constitute discrimination and therefore should be banned in higher education: “California should not be using taxpayer money to subsidize colleges that choose to discriminate against LGBT students,” Assemblyman Evan Low said, according to EdSource. “He called the schools that seek a religious exemption to anti-discrimination laws ‘the worst of the worst in terms of institutions that discriminate.’”

There really is no practical way to attend or work for a religious institution without realizing you will be exposed to a faith system. If you look at their website, promotional materials, and certainly the student or employee handbooks without being able to figure out where they stand on issues of faith, they’ve failed at being religious. If the school has been clear about its faith stances, at what point does the student have some responsibility to understand the doctrine and rules of the sponsoring religion?

When in doubt about the requirements of a school, ask questions. Don’t attend a college that doesn’t offer your major, and don’t attend one that teaches ideas you find intolerable.

It seems sensible that if you don’t want an education imbued with the values of a religion—any religion—attending classes at a religious school would be a poor choice for you. This is not a day or age of limited academic choices. California alone has hundreds of college and university options. Of its 281 accredited four-year options, only 42 are religious.

Let me simplify this. If a Jewish education isn’t your speed, don’t attend American Jewish University. If you aren’t interested in a Muslim university, don’t attend Zaytuna College. And if you don’t want to go to a Christian college, avoid them.

This Bill Would Essentially Outlaw Religious Schools

In case this wasn’t clear, choosing not to attend a religious college still leaves you the majority of options for higher education available in California. For many religious people, religion cannot be separated from vocational training or relegated to only theological classes. Religion is intrinsic to all of life.

People are making this about student loans and dollar signs. It’s bigger than that, though. This isn’t really about money and it’s not about a lack of options. Bills like this set precedents. They change how we think about what is acceptable, and this one in particular may open the door for civil suits that have the potential to ultimately eradicate religious activities from public life.

There is a simple question here. Do likeminded people have the right to peacefully assemble, or not? Perhaps the lawmakers of California should reread the First Amendment. But as the Bill of Rights seems to mostly be an inconvenience to their authoritarian goals, I’m not going to hold my breath.

Holly Scheer is a writer and editor. She’s fascinated by politics, culture and theology. Follow her on Twitter @HScheer1580.

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