Many faith-based universities hold to the traditional Christian view that sex and gender are distinct and united. If SB 1146 is passed without amendment, the state of California would drastically limit the religious freedom of such institutions to believe and live according to these traditional beliefs. In other words, the “free exercise of religion” becomes meaningless or restricted to only those schools that train pastors for ministry.
The California legislature is poised to consider legislation that could destroy the ability of numerous faith-based colleges and universities to pursue the mission for which they were created. SB 1146, one of two similar bills recently introduced into the California legislature, would essentially restrict fully faith-based education to seminaries.
If passed as is, this bill would strip California’s faith-based colleges and universities of their religious liberty to educate students according to their faith convictions.
The proposed legislation seeks to narrow a religious exemption in California only to those institutions of higher learning that prepare students for pastoral ministry. This functionally eliminates the religious liberty for students of all California faith-based colleges and universities who integrate spiritual life with the entire campus educational experience.
Biola is one of the schools potentially affected if SB 1146 is passed into law. Barry Corey, the president of Biola, expressed his concerns to me via email while on his way back from Ethiopia:
California’s faith-based colleges and universities make profound contributions to the common good of society, not in spite of but because of our deeply held faith convictions. It would be a step backwards if California, a state that has long been a leader in diversity, inclusion and pluralism, could not find a way to value and honor the religious freedom of Christian universities like Biola while at the same time respecting the dignity of our students.
Richard Kriegbaum, president of Fresno Pacific University, writes on the school blog:
Stated very simply, SB 1146 would severely restrict the free and full exercise of religious freedom granted by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. This bill would limit freedom of religious faith and practice to programs, courses and activities directly and narrowly intended to train pastors and similar vocational church leaders. At FPU religious freedom would only apply to the seminary and to undergraduate programs such as Bible and Christian ministry.
This is no minor thing.
There is a commonly held—and erroneous—belief that Christian colleges and universities are backward scientifically, repressive sexually, and inept socially. That such institutions are academically weak, Bible-thumping, 17th century good-old-boys clubs full of bigots and legalists. For those who hold such views, cutting off state or federal aid to these institutions, or to force them to shed some of their strongly-held Christian convictions, would be no great loss.