Let's start with the understanding that the government should neither be funding nor meddling with religious colleges at all. (We will pause for a moment for some readers to yell that that the government shouldn't be funding any colleges, religious or secular). But they do. They have for a long time and they will continue to do so. So before talking about the circumstances and rules through which the government funds and sets rules for religious colleges, we will have to acknowledge the current environment.
As religious institutions, these colleges are able to receive federal exemptions from complying with some nondiscrimination laws that contradict church teachings. California lawmakers are targeting these exemptions with a bill that will meddle with religious schools over whatever rules they might have that allow them to engage in some types of discrimination. To be more specific: SB 1146 is looking to find ways to punish religious schools that are not on board with accepting sexually active gay students, gay marriage, and transgender students.
There was a bill proposed that flat-out cut state grants going to schools that engaged in such discrimination. This bill has been held in committee since May. SB 1146 is different and a bit more subtle, but still puts the state in position of meddling with religious schools. It requires that any religious school that seeks an exemption from state or federal discrimination laws to make all that information available publicly, so the state can put together an online list of colleges that have gotten the exemption.
The bill furthermore declares that colleges that receive funding from the state can be privately sued for violating the state's non-discrimination laws. It states that religious schools that have sex-segregated housing and restrooms must accommodate the selected gender identities of students. The schools may enforce religious-based practices as long as they equally apply to students regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
There are very narrow exemptions for schools that exist solely for the purpose teaching the propagation of a particular religion (like seminaries), and institutions that have previously been admitting students of one sex may continue to do so.
The push for these new rules are not coming from within the church. They're come from LGBT organizations yanking around the dimensions of the Overton Window to interfere further and further with private religious practices they find detestable. The executive director of Equality California, which is pushing the bill, told NBC it was "about discrimination."
But it's about discrimination based on a religion's clearly defined beliefs, which themselves are protected by the First Amendment. And in contrast to the kind of widespread discriminatory behavior that has inspired civil rights movements, we're talking about a small number of colleges with a specific population that has chosen to be there. In NBC's reporting, one student actually worried about the bill because she chose to go to a religious college to "integrate [her] faith in [her] major."
For those who are not interested in living under the rules of the religions that have brought these colleges into existence in the first place, California has no dearth of options. California is not a state where students have trouble finding colleges to attend. In a response from the Los Angeles Archdiocese, Archbishop Jose Gomez and Bishop Charles Blake note "It is important to remember that no one is compelled to attend a private religious college or university. Those who do so make a deliberate decision because they are seeking an academic environment and community in which they can live, learn and serve with others who share their beliefs, values and aspirations."
This bill feels like nothing so much as activism that can't acknowledge that it has won the day and relax for even one second. And the wording of the bill makes it look like its actual goal is to create a private lawsuit factory against religious schools.
There is no substantive pressing need for this law, and one doesn't have to support religious-based discrimination against gay or transgender people to realize this is legislation based on trying to punish those with divergent opinions. Those who practice these religions should be the ones pushing for their church leaders to evolve into a more mature understanding of sexual drives and gender expression. It should not be a matter for the state or the courts.