A new piece of legislation in the California State Assembly could threaten the religious liberty of private colleges and universities across the state. With much confusion surrounding the implications of this proposed legislation, it’s vitally important that conservatives across the country educate themselves on the potential impact it could have on religious institutions’ ability to practice their faith.

What does SB 1146 do?

Simply put, this bill opens the door for religious institutions of higher education in California to face litigation and regulations challenging their ability to carry out tenets of their faith.

According to Christianity Today, the bill aims to “subject religious higher-education institutions to regulations forbidding them to act on their religious tenets if their students receive state grants to support their studies.” They describe its primary goal as “[preventing] colleges that receive state funds from enforcing codes of student conduct that reflect the college’s religious beliefs about sexual identity and the confining of marriage to male-female relationships.”

Universities would still be allowed to execute their religious missions, but any exercise of faith would have to be inclusive of all students, regardless of sexual identity or orientation, even when it contradicts their religious teachings. Ultimately, students who wish to continue attending universities that don’t comply with new standards could lose their state-provided tuition assistance and universities would be forced to comply with these regulations or face costly private lawsuits.

For instance, schools that teach the morality of traditional marriage could face litigation from students who feel the promotion of that concept constitutes discrimination or risk the state revoking its grants to attendees.

What are people saying about SB 1146? 

The New Guard spoke with two experts leading the movement against this bill. Former California assembly minority leader Kristin Olsen said, “Whether or not we agree with the tenets of their faith is irrelevant to whether or not they have the right– the constitutional right– to practice the tenants of their faith.”

She believes this legislation represents a clear breach of religious liberty and that it’s not the government’s job to involve itself in this matter. “I think it is harmful to Christian colleges because it opens the door to letting government have any say whatsoever over the practices at a Christian university, and that philosophically is not the government’s role,” Olsen said.

Additionally, Dr. Kurt Krueger, President of Concordia University- Irvine, explained that “there is a possibility that students could bring a lawsuit against us if they were in a class, for example, that espoused traditional views of marriage or pro-life issues.”

Biola University said in a statement, “If passed, this bill would substantially interfere with the ability of California’s faith-based colleges and universities to conduct themselves in a manner consistent with their beliefs.”

Schools have also expressed concerns that the legislation, which many argue is vague and open-ended, could result in forced hiring of faculty members that do not adhere to Christianity.

During a recent event at the Heritage Foundation, Greg Baylor, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, declared SB 1146 to be “one of the most significant threats that there has ever been to religious freedom.”

The next committee hearing date is scheduled for August 3rd.

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