SB 1146: The Battle for Religious Freedom

Legislators in California tried to pass a bill earlier this year that, in short, would have eliminated California students’ federal funding for attending religious universities that are exempt from certain discrimination laws.

A softer version that Christian universities in California can live with recently passed. But Christian universities such as Cedarville fear that legislation such as California’s SB 1146 could lead to further laws that restrict religious liberties and eventually eliminate federal loans and grants.

“Directly, it has nothing to do with Cedarville. Culturally, it has everything to do with Cedarville,” said Mark Caleb Smith, professor of political science at Cedarville University.

The original intention of this bill, SB 1146, proposed by Senator Ricardo Lara (D), was to severely reduce the number of religious exemptions for faith-based universities and to stop state funding from going to students who attend such universities. The only universities that would qualify for religious exemption would be ones that train pastors or theology instructors.

“I think SB 1146 was a deliberate effort to marginalize religious institutions in California and to make it difficult for students to attend those institutions if they had policies that restricted same-sex marriage or same-sex activity,” Smith said.

Had the bill passed in its original form, students would no longer have been eligible to receive a Cal-grant, a significant state-funded entitlement while attending faith-based universities.

“California should not be using taxpayer money to subsidize colleges that choose to discriminate against LGBT students,” Assemblyman Evan Low said, according to EdSource.

Due in part to the efforts of several Christian universities such as William Jessup University, a Christian liberal arts university located in Rocklin, California, the bill has since been amended to eliminate both of these restrictions. The current bill requires faith-based universities with Title IX exemption status to disclose them to current students, incoming students, faculty and to post them in a prominent spot on campus.

“The most objectionable parts of the bill, the part that allowed a private right of action or lawsuits, that has been taken out of the bill,” said John Jackson, president of William Jessup University said in a video.

SB 1146 will also require universities to submit their exemptions to the Student Aid Commission. Without an exemption from Title IX provisions, universities could face multiple discrimination lawsuits.

‘“We are unwilling to support any provision of the bill that targets specifically religious institutions,” Jackson said in the video.

As the amended bill stands, William Jessup University, along with many other Christian universities, are comfortable with the bill progressing into law. The amended bill was signed into law on Sept. 30.

A Religious exemption allows universities to be exempt from specific subsets in the Title IX law on the basis of religious tenets. Universities qualify to request  an exemption if they meet one of three criteria: the institution prepares students to become ministers, the institution requires faculty and students to sign a statement of faith or the institution is controlled by a religious organization.

In 1972 congress passed Title IX, a law that begins as follows, “No person in the United religious-freedom-graphic-infographicStates shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Examples of religious exemptions are universities that allow for separate housing, bathrooms, locker rooms, etc. Also, several institutions reserve the right to remove a student getting an abortion or deny admission to unmarried pregnant women. The widespread uproar from the LGBT community concerns Christian universities’ denial of homosexuality and their attempts to eradicate homosexual behavior on campus.

After 1972, dozens of universities applied for exemption status including Cedarville College which made its request on June 4, 1976 declaring in one section that, “In order to maintain the distinctive character of the college as a Christian institution with Biblical moral standards, Cedarville College must reserve the right to exclude from its programs, male or female applicants who violate the moral standards contained in the Bible.”

In light of the passage of the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987, former Cedarville President Paul H. Dixon signed and submitted a second exemption request on June 26, 1989, to clarify that the previous exemption remained valid and to extend the scope of the exemption previously granted. The U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights (OCR) granted Cedarville’s second request on August 16, 1889, and this request remains valid to this day.

Future legislation restricting exemption status on a federal level could cause faith-based universities to face a choice between compromising their beliefs to attain federal funding or losing their tax exempt status along with federal grants and loans in order to remain steadfast in their religious tenets.

The proposition of SB 1146 portrays the direction the country is moving toward progressivism and away from religious liberties.

“The growing movement is to equate same-sex marriage to racial discrimination,” Smith said.

Smith reassures Christians by saying, even in the most progressive state in the country, the original intentions of SB 1146 failed.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) also limits the government’s ability to burden religious liberties. RFRA helps guard first amendment rights from governmental encroachment and agendas stating, “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” Twenty states have even passed state RFRAs to ensure religious protection in local municipalities. If a court case was brought to the federal level regarding exemption status, the court would have to balance human dignity and free exercise of religion, two concepts susceptible to judicial interpretation.

“Generally, whenever the government makes decisions that affect religious freedoms directly, the presumptions is that the action is unconstitutional,” Smith said. “The burden of proof goes on the government to prove their actions are not overly discriminatory against religion.”

Government’s ability to impede on religion appears, for now, to be safeguarded by RFRA and our current court structure.

“If we lose the freedom to express our religion, then everyone should be concerned because the government becomes the judge of what worldviews are allowable and what worldviews are not. That’s not freedom, much less constitutional,” Thomas White, president of Cedarville University, told the Atlantic magazine.

Religious universities along with individuals have banded together to accomplish like-minded objectives. The Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU), along with the Association of Faith-Based Institutions (AFBI) and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) are just a few examples of like-minded universities banding together in the pursuit of similar interests.

In the case of SB 1146, hundreds of individuals wrote their state representatives pleading for an amendment to the bill with the uniform purpose of protecting religious liberty in their state and across the country.

Mass Resistance, an international pro-family activist organization, combined forces with local churches and led a protest against SB 1146 outside Senator Lara’s office building on the evening of June 29, a day before it went to the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

Within the realm of religious organizations, there are a variety of different beliefs regarding gender and sexuality. Many within the LGBT community believe religious institutions are using their beliefs to purposefully target and discriminate against them.

“The recent surge in religious exemptions continues a history of religious institutions using their faith as a shield for discrimination,” Geoff Kors, a government policy director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights said.

Smith said Christians should be intentional when discussing these issues with others.

“The best thing we can do is present ourselves in a way that presents Christ’s love clearly,” Smith said.

Gabe Chester is a freshman global business and marketing major and a writer for Cedars. He loves music, sports, school and God.


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