A bill working its way through the California legislature would drastically undermine the religious liberty of Christian universities in the state. If passed, it could become a model for attacks on Christian schools across the country.
In recent years, the government has required that educational institutions not “discriminate” against LGBT students lest they lose federal funding. However, religious schools have been exempted from this requirement if their “religious tenets” affirmed biblical sexuality and marriage.
Now this exemption is at risk.
If Senate Bill 1146 is enacted, the religious liberty exemption would apply only to “educational programs or activities . . . to prepare students to become ministers of the religion, to enter upon some other vocation of the religion, or to teach theological subjects pertaining to the religion.” In other words, only theological seminaries would retain their religious liberty protections.
As Biola University warns, the bill “functionally eliminates the religious liberty of all California faith-based colleges and universities who integrate spiritual life with the entire campus educational experience.” It would “eliminate religious liberty in California higher education as we know it and rob tens of thousands of students of their access to a distinctly faith-based higher education.”
All this to fix what Andrew Walker correctly calls a “non-existent problem.” As he notes, “Students who apply and attend colleges do so voluntarily. There are no victims here—unless victimhood is measured in terms of institutions singled out for their countercultural religious convictions.”
There’s even more to the story.
The First Amendment, often called our “First Freedom,” states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” However, a few years ago, observers began noticing a distinction between “freedom of religion” and “freedom of worship” in statements by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton. What could happen if we move from “freedom of religion” to “freedom of worship”?
The California bill is one answer: schools that teach “worship” (theology and ministry training) have religious liberty, but those that are “religious” (all other Christian schools) do not. Extending this outcome, pastors would be free to address issues such as same-sex marriage only in sermons delivered in worship services—if they speak publicly on such issues in other forums, they could be accused of hate speech. Church facilities would be tax-exempt only if they are used expressly for worship—offices, gyms, and educational spaces could be taxed. Our personal religious convictions would be protected only when they are expressed during worship services or in private.
The California bill is just one example of this frightening trend. If it prevails against Christian universities, will seminaries be far behind? If it applies to LGBT “discrimination,” what other religious convictions will eventually be punished?
Truly Christian schools—like churches and people—cannot separate faith from the rest of life. Jesus was clear: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
Let’s pray for our leaders to affirm the religious liberties our forefathers died to protect. And let’s exercise that liberty by loving and serving God every day in every dimension of life (Mark 12:30), whatever the cost.
Isaac Watts claimed, “Our Savior has taught us to put my neighbor in place of myself, and myself in place of my neighbor.” Will you prove him right today?