EDITOR’S NOTE: After this article originally was posted, California Sen. Ricardo Lara—sponsor of the bill—announced he was amending the legislation to keep religious exemptions for colleges and universities in place. The bill still requires schools to “disclose if they have an exemption and report to the state when students are expelled for violating morality codes.”
WASHINGTON (BP)—A multi-faith coalition urged California legislators to abandon a bill it says would violate religious freedom in higher education.
The coalition—spearheaded by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission—called for members of the State Assembly to oppose Senate Bill 1146.
The statement—signed by more than 140 religious, academic, legal, policy and media leaders—says the legislation especially would harm low-income minority students who seek to attend religious universities and colleges.
The measure also would limit the capability of schools to establish standards consistent with their religious beliefs, the endorsers assert.
In the statement, the signers acknowledge they do not all agree on religious issues but “all agree that the government has no place in discriminating against poor religious minorities or in pitting a religious education institution’s faith-based identity against its American identity.”
The California legislation—passed by the state Senate in late May—would only exempt seminaries and other schools that train students for pastoral ministry, theological teaching or another religious vocation from anti-discrimination laws. The state assembly could vote on the proposal by Aug. 19.
One effect of the measure, opponents say, would be to deny Cal Grants—scholarships for low-income students, three-fourths of whom are minorities—to students who attend religiously affiliated nonprofit universities or colleges in the state.
Opponents of SB 1146 also contend it would bar Christian and other religious schools from enforcing such requirements as a profession of faith by their students and faculty, standards of sexual conduct, restroom and locker room policies based on biology instead of gender identity, and the integration of faith in curriculum.
“Applying legal or political pressure on institutions that disagree with the cultural majority of the moment is not merely unwise or unfair—it is un-American,” said ERLC President Russell Moore. “A healthy American culture is one in which ideas can freely be discussed and debated, in good faith, among people who, though they disagree, would defend the right of the other to participate.”
Southern Baptists signing the statement include seminary presidents Al Mohler, Paige Patterson, Chuck Kelley, Jeff Iorg, Daniel Akin and Jason Allen, along with Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board; Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California; Fermin Whittaker, executive director of the California Southern Baptist Convention; and Ronald Ellis, president of California Baptist University.
Others include Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Alan Sears, president of Alliance Defending Freedom; Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family; Jerry Johnson, president of the National Religious Broadcasters; Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary; and Marvin Olasky, editor in chief of World magazine.
Academics who endorsed the statement include Robert George, Princeton University professor; Douglas Laycock, University of Virginia law professor; Michael McConnell, director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center; Barry Corey, president of Biola University in La Mirada, Calif.; and Hamza Yusuf Hanson, president of Zaytuna College, a Muslim liberal-arts school in Berkeley, Calif.
Based on reporting by Tom Strode with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.