The Pernicious Danger of California SB 1146

Since last I reported on California Assembly Bill 1888 and Senate Bill 1146 there is good news and bad news.  The good news is that Assembly Bill 1888, which would withhold Cal Grant money for colleges who maintain Christian standards on homosexuality and transgenderism, has been placed in the “suspense file.”  It can be taken up at a later time, but it is not currently moving toward becoming law.  It has basically been “tabled.”

The bad news is that, in my previous article on these two bills, I misread SB 1146 and badly botched my analysis of it.  Yes, SB 1146 does require the state to maintain an online data base of every college that seeks a religious exemption from Title IX or from California’s “Equity in Higher Education Act.” 

But the most catastrophic effect of SB 1146 would be to thoroughly secularize all Christian colleges campuses except for seminaries and departments of religion that are directly involved with training ministers.  The measure seeks, in effect, to quarantine the religion department from the larger campus of which it is a part, while secularizing the rest of the campus.  This measure, should it become law, would mean that there could be no Christian colleges, only Christian religion departments. 

There is pre-existing California law known as the “Equity in Higher Education Act,” which is now in the California Education Code at §§ 66250 through 66292.4.  It provides that “No person shall be subjected to discrimination on the basis of disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, [or] sexual orientation  . . . by any postsecondary educational institution that receives, or benefits from, state financial assistance or enrolls students who receive state student financial aid.” Cal. Ed. Code, § 66270

Were it not for an exemption for religiously-controlled schools, this law would prevent an Adventist or other Christian college from upholding Christian standards on homosexuality and transgenderism.  But, more importantly, it would prevent a Christian school from carrying out its most basic mission.  Adventist colleges preferentially admit Adventist students and preferentially hire Adventist teachers.  La Sierra, for example, has a policy that tenure-track professorships are reserved for Seventh-day Adventists.  That is obviously discrimination in hiring on the basis of religion, which is forbidden by the statute.

Currently, however, this law has a broad exemption for religious schools.  Section 66271 states, “this chapter shall not apply to an educational institution that is controlled by a religious organization if the application would not be consistent with the religious tenets of that organization.”  This exception allows Adventist colleges in California not only to uphold standards on sexuality (should they choose to do so), but also to preferentially admit Adventist students and hire Adventist professors, and to pursue the Adventist philosophy of education, which is that all subjects, not just religion, should be taught from a biblical and Seventh-day Adventist perspective. 

But SB 1146 would narrow the exemption from religiously-controlled colleges to departments of religion.  Section 66271 would be amended to read:  “This chapter shall not apply to educational programs or activities offered by an educational institution that is controlled by a religious organization to prepare students to become ministers of the religion, to enter upon some other vocation of the religion, or to teach theological subjects pertaining to the religion, if the application of this chapter would not be consistent with the religious tenets of that organization.”

So under SB 1146, entire campuses cannot be religious, only individual religion departments and divinity programs within those campuses.  Only religion departments and divinity schools could preferentially admit Adventist students and hire Adventist professors; their larger campuses could not.  Only religion departments and divinity schools could enforce standards with regard to homosexuality and transgenderism; their campuses could not.  In effect, should SB 1146 become law, California would no longer tolerate religiously-controlled college campuses, only religiously-controlled seminaries and divinity schools.   

And it gets worse.  Unlike with AB 1888, the issue with SB 1146 is not whether schools would be eligible for Cal Grant money.  It is not clear that even refusing Cal Grant money would allow a Christian school to preserve its religious freedom under the regime of SB 1146.  This is because the “Equity in Higher Education Act” contains a private right of action, meaning that students can personally sue the school to enforce the statute, and seek money damages. (Cal. Ed. Code, §§ 66292.3-.4)  

Were SB 1146 to pass, any transgendered atheist with a streak of activism could seek to enroll at La Sierra (not as a religion major), or apply for a professorship at La Sierra (in English, Mathematics or History, but not theology), and if he/she/it were refused admission or not hired, sue the school for discrimination.  The legal fees and damages would be so ruinous as to effectively force La Sierra to become a public school, except for the H.M.S. Richards Divinity School, which could still have moral standards and discriminate on the basis of religion.

Alan Reinach reports: 

Our letters and calls are making a difference! California Senate Bill 1146 was supposed to go through the Senate today for a vote, but it was pulled from the floor. We believe constituent calls are putting pressure on the bill's author to modify the bill so that it does not restrict the rights of religious colleges and universities. Please, keep getting the word out, and keep those calls and letters coming.  Simply tell them you want them to vote "no" on SB 1146.

SB 1146 may be voted on as early as Friday, so readers in California should try to swamp the California legislature with telephone calls, emails and letters.