A bill getting serious consideration in the California legislature, if adopted, would be an immediate threat to the survival of faith-based colleges in the state.
Senate Bill 1146, offered in April by state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), which passed the Senate May 26, continues to move forward. And despite some amendments, it still represents a serious threat to religious freedom and educational choice.
Lara, a member of the LGBT Caucus, said the bill is meant to "close a little-known loophole" that allows private faith-based colleges to not comply with the state's Title IX-aligned education code anti-discrimination regulations as they apply to gender identity and sexual orientation. That exemption only applies to educational institutions "controlled by a religious organization" if compliance would violate "religious tenets of that organization."
Lara's press release announcing the bill earlier this year stated:
Over the last three years there has been a significant uptick in the number of universities who apply and receive an exemption to Title IX. Only one school was granted an exemption in 2013. Today there are at least 43 schools that have received an exemption nationally. There are at least six schools in California that currently have an exemption. Currently, the universities that receive Title IX exemptions do not have to disclose their status to students or staff. Many 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. Students and staff across the country have reported finding out about the exemption, only after being expelled from school or fired from their job.
"All students deserve to feel safe in institutions of higher education, regardless of whether they are public or private," he said. "California has established strong protections for the LGBTQ community and private universities should not be able to use faith as an excuse to discriminate and avoid complying with state laws. No university should have a license to discriminate."
John Jackson, president of William Jessup University in Rocklin, California, told The Heritage Foundation's DailySignal the bill would have a "chilling effect" by resulting in the elimination of "faith-based decisions" when it comes to admission, housing and employment. It is possible the bill could "make it impossible for private schools to operate under any faith-based principles."
"The problem is that it provides a course of legal action for any student that feels they've been discriminated against in any other setting," Jackson said. "So if this bill passes, and a student comes to our school and says, 'I feel really uncomfortable that chapel was mandatory, or that the professor opened class in prayer, or with community service'—that is a required part of our faith commitments—the bill as written creates a private right of action, meaning that the student would have the right to sue a school over what faith-based schools consider a core part of our spiritual life."
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