(CNSNews.com) – A bill currently before the California State Legislature seeks to prevent religious universities in the state from using their faith as the basis for certain administrative decisions.
“All students deserve to feel safe in institutions of higher education, regardless of whether they are public or private,” said state Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) in an April 6 press release introducing the legislation.
Lara added that “private universities should not be able to use faith as an excuse to discriminate and avoid complying with state laws.”
The new section would make religious colleges that receive state funding subject to Section 11135 of the code, which prohibits discrimination or denial of access to a program or activity “ on the basis of “race, national origin, ethnic group identification, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, color, genetic information, or disability.”
SB-1146 notes that schools can still make gender-based administrative rules, so long as they do not discriminate based on someone’s gender identity or sexual preference. Moreover, the bill emphasizes that schools are not prohibited from refusing to use their property “for any purpose that is not consistent with the religious tenets of the organization.”
According to Lara’s press release, private universities use religious beliefs to “avoid complying with Title IX” without disclosing the exemption to students or staff at the institutions. It claims that “students are completely unaware of the exemption and what the potential consequences would be in the event their sexual orientation or gender identity did not align with the universities’ values.”
In response, the proposed bill’s second section would require schools that claim a religious exemption from Title IX to “disclose to current and prospective students, faculty members and employees the basis for claiming the exemption and the scope of the allowable activities provided by the exemption.”
The bill was passed May 26 by the California Senate. On June 22, the state General Assembly’s Higher Education Committee amended and approved the legislation, and referred it the next day to the Judiciary Committee, which further amended it on Wednesday.
However, the bill is facing opposition from religious and academic leaders in California and elsewhere.
In an interview with CNSNews.com, Kim Colby, the director at the Christian Legal Society’s Center for Law and Religious Freedom, said that even though the bill as currently amended “would not apply to chapel attendance or to religious requirements of the students,” it would not allow institutions to make “decisions based on sexual issues such as gender identity and sexual orientation.”
“This is certainly an example of overreach on the part of the California General Assembly, and it is a threat to religious liberty because religious colleges typically have conduct standards for their students that implement traditional Christian beliefs regarding proper conduct for students,” Colby said.
“It’s not really appropriate for the state to be telling religious colleges what their beliefs should and shouldn’t be regarding marriage, sexuality and family matters, and how they require their students to abide by those beliefs,” she added.
“Even the amended law is a huge infringement on the relationship between the colleges and their faculty and what colleges can expect of their faculty in adhering to traditional religious viewpoints regarding sexuality, family and marriage,” Colby concluded.
Meanwhile, the California Family Council (CFC) says the bill’s intent is “to target Christian schools that maintain biblical beliefs on marriage and sexuality.”
CFC claims the law would “force religious colleges and universities into a dreadful choice": either give up state funding or relinquish the “ability to maintain the school’s religious convictions.”
However, LGBT rights groups in California have expressed their support for SB-1146.
“Students and staff have a right to know when their school requests a license to discriminate against the LGBT community,” said Dave Garcia, director of policy and community building at the Los Angeles LGBT Center.
His support was echoed by Equality California executive director Rick Zbur.
"This bill would let any school seeking to skirt federal anti-discrimination protections know that its policies would be public, and that anyone discriminated against would have legal recourse,” said Zbur.