Legal expert: California religious liberty threat ‘most significant’ ever

Religious Liberty | Proposed legislation seeks to cripple faith-based higher education in California
by Evan Wilt
Posted 7/19/16, 05:39 pm

WASHINGTON—A bill rushing through California’s state legislature could deliver a fatal blow to Christian education, legal experts warn.

“I’ve been practicing religious freedom law for about 20 years now and I believe this bill is one of the most significant threats that there has ever been to religious freedom,” Greg Baylor, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said today at the Heritage Foundation.

Hours before adjourning for July recess, a California State Senate committee advanced a bill that seeks to punish faith-based colleges and universities for holding biblical beliefs about marriage and sexuality. If signed into law, SB 1146 could expose schools to punitive litigation and the loss of millions in student aid. Schools wanting to avoid any penalty would have to dissolve student codes of conduct based on biblical teachings about sex and wouldn’t be able to base hiring decisions on religious convictions about sexuality, gender identity, and marriage.

Baylor said California lawmakers have no evidence of schools wrongly discriminating against LGBT students and concluded the bill is just an attempt to silence biblical beliefs.

SB 1146 attaches new components to the anti-discrimination requirements for Cal-Grants, the largest state-funded student financial aid program. Cal-Grants award students between $6,000 and $12,000 to help pay tuition at any accredited college or university in the state. Under the bill’s current language, faith-based schools would no longer be eligible for Cal-Grants.

William Jessup University, a small Christian school in northern California, hires Christian faculty, separates student housing on the basis of biological sex, and prohibits homosexual activity as part of its code of conduct. About one-third of its traditional undergraduate students use Cal-Grants to help pay tuition costs.

“I can tell you now and you can quote me later: William Jessup University will not change its policies,” said John Jackson, school president. “We will be faithful to our biblical and religious convictions no matter the economic consequences.”

Cal-Grants provide about $9,000 in aid for students to attend private institutions. William Jessup stands to lose about $2 million per year. For larger Christian universities in the state, the annual losses could total up to $10 million.

Losing that much from its annual budget won’t sink the school but William Jessup would have to cut back on resources and programs offered to students, Jackson said.

That’s the short-term impact. But the long-term forecast of passing SB 1146 is that fewer students will choose to attend Christian schools in California, according to Baylor.

“Nine thousand dollars means a lot more to that student than $2 million does for William Jessup University,” Baylor said. “It’s a direct financial punishment because you are choosing a school that has traditional views about sexuality and marriage.”

But state Sen. Ricardo Lara, the openly gay Democrat who authored the bill, believes students will suffer without the legislation.

“These universities essentially have a license to discriminate, and students have absolutely no recourse,” Lara said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “Universities are supposed to be a place where students feel safe and can learn without fear of discrimination or harassment.”

But Baylor notes the bill discriminates against the schools and their beliefs.

“We would never say the Catholic church can’t require its priests to be Catholic,” he said. “But that’s essentially what this bill does.”

All schools wanting to keep state financial aid would have to accommodate students based on their gender identity and would not be able to separate housing, restrooms, or locker room facilities based on biology. The same standards would apply to gender fluid students, those who fluctuate between identifying as either male or female.

SB 1146 goes to a Senate Appropriations Committee on Aug. 3 for deliberation and another vote before heading to the full general assembly at the end of the month. If it passes, Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, will have until the end of September to sign it. The bill would go into effect Jan. 1.

Evan Wilt

Evan is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD reporter.

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  • JerryM
    Posted: Tue, 07/19/2016 06:34 pm

    "...students have absolutely no recourse."

    Are all colleges and universities in California Christian institutions upholding biblical values?  

    How does this statement have any credibility?

  •  Greg Mangrum's picture
    Greg Mangrum
    Posted: Tue, 07/19/2016 10:54 pm

    I agree. That has to be one of the most asinine statements I've heard. And that is saying something because I live in California where I am bombarded with ridiculous statements from the state's leaders, legislators, and talking heads regularly.

  •  Cdh's picture
    Posted: Wed, 07/20/2016 09:22 am

    Certainly students do have recourse. If they are choosing a school soley based on academics, surely there are other choices. But in this instance they are choosing a school that reflects their Christian values. Now the state is saying the school cannot hold those values. 

    Posted: Wed, 07/20/2016 09:31 am

    Sorry. Accidentally reported your comment. I meant to push reply. 


    ... Completely agreed. This is discrimination. And yet, it might be best for the churches/organizations who actually believe what the bible says to split off from dependence on the government at all. That includes tax exempt status. 

  • BjW
    Posted: Wed, 07/20/2016 10:42 am

    Let ALL the people of California know this, that as a Christian the only way I believe that I can influence California legislators is to  longer send my dollars to California. So I will no longer buy California fruit, vegetables, nuts, wine when at all possible. I will purchase these items from Texas, Mexico and South America. Of course I will pray for God's wisdom to seep into their hearts, souls and minds. But thus far, the Dark One has robbed their sensibilities.


  • socialworker
    Posted: Wed, 07/20/2016 11:31 am

    Interesting approach.  But then you are punishing the farmers and the farm workers who might very well agree with you.  I reaction is without flaws.

  • Sawgunner's picture
    Posted: Wed, 07/20/2016 11:32 am

    In the immediate years after WW2 our nation's colleges and universities were awash with new young men. These war vets had GI bill money (which in those days was actually enough to cover tution) and there was goofy chatter about the unconstitutionality of government money going to private religious schools. The final holding was that the dollars follow the scholars to BYU, Notre Dame etc. Where the veteran wanted to use his financial entitlement was not anyone's business.

    It might be time for more and more schools to become more like Hillsdale and secede from the largesse of the federal govt teat.


  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Wed, 07/20/2016 04:05 pm

    Re the article's statement:

    "But Baylor notes the bill discriminates against the schools and their beliefs."

    The bill discriminates against students even moreso than the schools. Cal Grants are awarded to students, not to schools. Students receive grants to attend the accredited school of their choice. Here the government wants to censor the students' choice, awarding grants to students who wish to spend the grant on the particular schools the state says they may. The discrimination would be selective and unequally applied to only certain students, namely, to those students whose free choice is a school that offers traditional Christian education. In other words, "Here student, is your grant, but you may not spend it except as we say you may."

    If passed, both the schools and individual students, or a coalition of students, should file discrimination charges and hopefully go as far up the judicial ladder as need be. If the U.S. Supreme Court were to uphold the Calfornia bill, then we have entered the age of 1984 and the age of thought police.

    Posted: Wed, 07/20/2016 05:38 pm

    Increasingly, the solution seems to be voting for less government overall.  Less taxes, and less intrusive "services".  Are we ready to vote for less government?  Can we support Libertarianism?

  • jclark53
    Posted: Thu, 07/21/2016 11:14 am

    I can see their point. The schools can apparently still teach those values and use them in hiring, but they will lose financial aid. So the cost of government financial aid is letting the government dictate standards.

    On the other hand, government gives much more financial aid to institutions that teach the religion of humanism, except they won't acknowlege that. If they push evolution or a LGBT agenda, they are also teaching a belief system that is incompatible with mine and does not have scientific backing. Maybe the solution is to fight for financial aid to be withheld from those institutions too.