SB1146 Update

A bill in the California legislature that would severely challenge or limit Christian institutions of higher education made another step towards law when it was approved by the Higher Education Committee of the Assembly on an 8-2 vote with three abstaining votes.  The votes were strictly party-line votes, and two of the three abstained voters were Republicans.

This bill seeks to eliminate religious exemptions to non-discrimination legislation specific to gender and sexuality for religious institutions for any program that is not specifically a religious program or preparing students for a religious vocation.  This means that an institution of higher education is not free to integrate religious beliefs throughout the academic experience for all students.  It would create a bizarre environment where one section of the student body is governed by policies that don’t apply to the other section.  Furthermore, it completely undermines the notion that religious belief and practice should be integrated into one’s life as a whole, regardless of vocation.

State funding for low-income students would be eliminated for these non-religious programs at these institutions, effectively limiting low-income student options for where to attend university, even if a religious university is consistent with their personal beliefs.

What is the point of public funding?  To encourage education for any and all citizens, or to encourage specific types of education and particular ideologies for any and all students?  The bill expresses concern that potential or existing students might not know the religious beliefs of a school they are applying to or enrolled in, leading to them investing time and money in a school that will at some point expel them for their personal beliefs and leave them no financial recourse.

I don’t have a problem with the portion of the bill that requires schools to be fully forthcoming about the fact that they are exempt as religious schools from non-discrimination legislation, meaning that they can require students to sign statements of belief and/or practice and expel those who refuse or who violate those agreements.  I don’t think there are too many students who get surprised by a private religious school’s expectations on behavior or belief, but fine – let’s make sure of that to the best of our ability.

And while my concern is for Christian schools (are there any publicly funded universities in our state that are affiliated with and uphold the doctrinal beliefs of another religion?  Any Muslim universities?  Hindu?  Hmmmm.) this bill would affect any religious school.

Should tax-payers be funding private Christian education that encourages a particular set of beliefs and practices?  The error is in assuming that legislation such as SB1146 is setting us free from linking tax-payer dollars to specific belief systems.  This legislation is simply penalizing one set of beliefs in favor of another.  While there are some tax-payers who are undoubtedly happy about this, there are others – like myself – who are not.  What is the best solution?  Is the best solution to require tax dollars to be allocated to any student who wishes to attend any institution?  Or is it better to marginalize the preferences of some tax-payers in favor of the preferences of other tax-payers?

I prefer the former option.  I think it intrudes less on personal liberty and freedom of religion than the proposed legislation.  But I’m pretty positive that this legislation will pass, and that legislation similar to it will crop up in your state eventually.  Be prepared and informed.




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