First Amendment advocates are speaking out about a California bill that would force religious colleges and universities to abandon faith-based policies or risk losing state funds.
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is calling on California lawmakers to abandon the proposed Senate Bill 1146, as it threatens to undermine religious liberty and unfairly punishes minority students seeking a religious education.
If passed, SB 1146 would strip religious schools receiving state student aid of their exemptions from Title IX and state laws that give special preferences to selected groups of people. In effect, religious institutions would be barred from assigning students to campus housing based on their sex and from disciplining students who violate faith-based rules regarding sexual activity — or lose Pell Grant and Cal Grant dollars. In other words, religious schools would have to stop acting out their faith or struggle to stay in business.
“This legislation puts into principle that majoritarian beliefs are more deserving of legal protection, and that minority viewpoints are deserving of government harassment. . . Senate Bill 1146 endangers the integrity of religious education institutions and discourages them from acting according to their conscience for fear of government retribution,” the commission said in a statement released Tuesday.
In an interview on Monday with KPCC’s “AirTalk,” Darren Guerra, a Biola University professor, explained the bill would disproportionately affect minority students who rely on state funds to afford a religious education. Biola is a Christian university that has spoken out in opposition to the bill.
“At our school we have 879 Cal Grant recipients – 37 percent of those are Latino, 25 percent are Asian, 3 percent are African-American, and 30 percent are white,” Guerra said about Biola, where 6,222 students are currently enrolled.
“All students, gay or straight, have to sign on to a code of conduct before they come here,” Guerra continued. “I think students gay and straight believe that a faith-based community has some insights into the true, the good and the beautiful, and they want to experience that. They want to learn in an environment that encourages moderation in these areas and encourages them to see themselves as more than sexual beings, but as whole persons who can flourish in many ways.”
The bill is scheduled for a committee hearing Thursday.