Bill denying Christian colleges religious freedom passes California Assembly panel

Christians hold Stand Up for Religious Freedom placards at a rally.(Stand Up For Religious Freedom)

A bill that seeks to eliminate religious exemptions for Christian colleges is moving forward through committees at the California legislature.

SB 1146 aims to include all colleges and universities receiving state financial assistance together with students receiving state financial aid under the authority of the Equity in Higher Education Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex.

The bill, authored by state Senator Ricardo Lara, was passed by the Assembly's Higher Education Committee with an 8-2 vote and is now with the Committee on the Judiciary.

Christian educational institutions are vehemently opposed to the bill, saying it would mean that "they would no longer be able to determine for themselves the scope of their religious convictions as applied in student conduct policies, housing and restroom/locker facilities, and other matters of religious expression and practical campus life," according to the website Oppose 1146.

The proposed policy would also make Christian colleges and universities open to anti-discrimination lawsuits and government supervision.

"This bill, if it became law, would diminish religious liberty in California higher education. It would unfairly harm faith-based institutions and it would weaken the rich educational diversity of our state," the website said.

An estimated 42 faith-based institutions of higher education in California will be affected if the bill becomes a law.

The California Senate has already passed the bill and the judiciary committee must approve it before it goes to the full Assembly, CBN News reports.

Faith-based institutions including Biola University have taken an "oppose unless amended" stance on the bill, which has been amended to narrow Christian colleges' religious freedom to operate.

They are opposed to the bill's Section 1, which eliminates religious exemption under the California Code Section 66271.

"Under the new proposed language in 66271, religious institutions would no longer be exempt from portions of the California Equity in Higher Education Act (EHEA) that conflict with their religious tenets," according to the anti-Bill 1146 website.

An example, it said, is that a Christian college in California will no longer able to enforce certain conduct standards and policies such as sexual conduct standards without being subject to lawsuits.

Dr. Kurt Krueger, president of Concordia University in Irvine, says SB 1146 "effectively eliminates the religious exemption under current law that allows Christian colleges and universities to operate in accordance with their beliefs."

The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities warned that the bill could set a precedent for Christian colleges across the U.S.

It said "the bill's language is ambiguous and does not clearly preserve the institutional freedom of Christian colleges."