How California's 'Nondiscrimination' Bill Threatens Christian Colleges, Religious Freedom

Chelsen Vicari serves as the Evangelical Program Director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
Chelsen Vicari serves as the Evangelical Program Director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

One year after the Supreme Court's ruling to redefine marriage, threats to religious liberty are growing. On June 30, the California State Legislature's Assembly Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear Senate Bill 1146, intended to restrict Christian colleges and schools from discriminating on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

It seems hard to envision a state punishing a Christian school for upholding traditional Christian teachings. Even so, that's exactly what could happen if SB 1146 is passed.

SB 1146 would narrow the number of California colleges and universities that are able to claim exemptions from federal Title IX anti-discrimination law, applying the exemption only to seminaries and schools of divinity. This means Christian colleges could face a loss of accreditation status with the state of California resulting in their students' inability to qualify for state and federal grants and loans.

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Asking that all students and faculty submit to behavioral standards is not discriminatory on the part of Christian colleges that broadly cater to students of faith. Even so, advocates of SB 1146 have arbitrarily determined Christian institutions like Biola University are not religious enough for an exemption.

It's bad enough students wishing to attend faith-based college in California could go without financial aid or an accredited school. But the bill could also affect the careers of Christian colleges' faculty and staff. One professor told me thinking about the future of Christian higher education is a sobering for him. If SB 1146 passes, he could be disciplined for discussing Scripture's teachings on campus or offering a prayer before lecture a student deems offensive.

Over email correspondence, Chair of the Biola University Political Science Department, Scott Waller, wrote:

"SB 1146 is a real test as to whether a state legislature (and most likely the court system) is going to impose the SCOTUS-imposed orthodoxy concerning sexual orientation and marriage. The effect of this bill is a direct challenge to long-standing exceptions for religious free exercise claims and, if enforced, would forever change the legal landscape for religious adherents both individually and collectively. From what we have seen from the lower courts on this issue pertaining to Christian businesses within the wedding industry, this does not bode well for Christian higher ed. Every person who values religious liberty in this country should be concerned about this bill."

Biola University doesn't stand alone. Christian groups including the California-based National Center for Law & Policy, the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the California Family Council and the California Family Alliance have lined up against the bill.

Equally troubled over SB 1146 is Kurt Krueger, President of Concordia University Irvine which holds a Lutheran heritage.

"The most troubling provision of this bill limits the religious liberty to integrate faith and learning throughout the educational experience," wrote Krueger in a press release. "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."

Faith-based institutions in California should not have to compartmentalize their religious beliefs away from the teaching curriculum in the name of political correctness. Commonsense tells us Christian colleges have the freedom to be distinctly Christian by asking students to live in a way consistent with their values. So does the Constitution.

California's SB 1146 aptly illustrates where we are today in America's culture wars. We can expect more assaults to surface, but I pray these challenges encourage Christians to strengthen their public witness for the preservation of religious liberty and spread of the Gospel.

Lord knows our country needs some Good News.

Chelsen Vicari serves as the Evangelical Program Director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy. She earned her Masters of Arts in Government from Regent University and frequently contributes to conservative outlets. Follow her on twitter @ChelsenVicari.

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