Shrinking Liberties

I saw a post to this letter from a colleague on Facebook.  The letter is from the President of Concordia University, Irvine.  This university is part of our denominational university system, and therefore are Christian universities.

At issue is this bill -California SB-1146.  It does two basic things.  First of all, it drastically limits exceptions to Federal and State non-discrimination policies.  Instead of religious schools governed by religious organizations being exempt from adhering to non-discrimination policies, only those schools or programs within schools that specifically prepare people for religious careers would be exempted.  In other words, instead of the assumption that a Biblical, Christian education can and should be a part of all aspects of an educational experience, and that a school should have the right to stipulate adherence to Biblical doctrines in these respects rather than being forced to compromise those doctrines to accommodate certain individuals, the assumption is that such a Biblical, Christian education only matters if you’re going to work in the Church somehow.  If you want to be a Christian accountant and attend a Christian university that doesn’t compartmentalize your faith into Sunday morning and the rest of your life, you’re out of luck.

At least if you’re expecting government funding in the form of loans or scholarships.

The second thing this bill does is demand that such school policies contrary to State or Federal non-discrimination policies must be advertised.  A lot.  In multiple locations and in promotional literature.  The idea being that it is unfair to a student who enrolls in a university but doesn’t realize that university doesn’t allow homosexual behavior on campus or provide transgendered facilities on campus.  Hypothetically a student could enroll in a school and never know this until they had already sunk money into it.

The commentary on the bill points out the jump in the number of higher education institutions that are applying for exemption to the non-discrimination clauses.  Clearly, government officials are worried about this, citing one application for exemption in 2013 and over 40 in 2015.  Officials apparently see this as problematic, despite a plethora of state and other private universities that have no such exemptions and don’t request them.

If I’m reading it right, it means that at our denominational schools, exemptions to the non-discrimination policies would only apply for someone enrolled in a program preparing them for church work.  The biology program would not be exempt.  So two different groups of students under two separate systems of admissions would be on the same campus.  This seems problematic in the extreme, and again essentially says that religious education and beliefs are appropriate only to those going to work for the Church.

This is a continued erosion of the definitions of freedom of religion, a further move from freedom of religion to freedom of worship.  Now, I have no problem with requiring schools to be very clear about their policies or exemptions to policies.  Students *do* need to be properly informed, and this should significantly reduce – or eliminate – protests from students regarding this subject.  Now nobody should be surprised to find out how their school views homosexuality or transgenderism or what-have-you.

But limiting exemptions only to religious programs of study is a major change and I think a dangerous one.  It is a further overstep of the government into the freedom to exercise religion – including the right to provide religious education.

That being said, I also side with those who say that if you want the government’s money, you need to play by their rules.  Will that be very difficult for many religious schools?  Yes, without a doubt.  Will it reduce the number of options for religious university education, undoubtedly.

However we need to recognize that it isn’t just a matter of funding that will eventually come into play.  Accreditation will eventually be on the line as well for these schools.  Currently, top-tier religious universities like the Concordia system are accredited by regional accreditation bodies.  There are six of these regional accreditation bodies in the United States, and they determine whether the academic experience offered at any given school is on par with the other schools they accredit.  It means that credits should be transferrable to some extent between accredited bodies within a single region or across accrediting regions.

I fully expect that accreditation bodies will be the next line for trying to force religious universities to comply with government standards of non-discrimination.  There are other accrediting bodies, but they aren’t as prestigious and widely recognized as the regional accreditation bodies.  Losing that stamp of approval will definitely negatively affect the number of prospective students looking to attend there, because there will be a perception that the quality of education provided is less because there is no regional accreditation.

I’m against what this bill does in further limiting exceptions to anti-discrimination policies from religious schools.  However I’m all for making it clear to prospective and current students exactly what principles and doctrines the school adheres to, so students can make fully informed choices.  But the war on religious education isn’t over by a long shot, either from the funding or accreditation standpoint.




One Response to “Shrinking Liberties”

  1. SB1146 Update | Living Apologetics Says:

    […] bill I blogged about earlier this summer, that would have put massive restrictions on religious schools throughout California in terms of […]

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