Rick Warren, Russell Moore and other evangelical leaders protest California education Bill

Pastor Rick Warren is among signatories to a statement opposing a proposed California Bill limiting religious exemption in private educational institutions.(Facebook/Rick Warren)

Evangelical leaders Rick Warren and Russell Moore are among a range of signatories from Christian, Muslim and backgrounds who have put their name to a statement denouncing a California Bill that would limit religious exemptions for private educational institutions.

The statement - Protecting the future of religious higher education - was published on the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission's (ERLC) website yesterday and is signed by pastors and other figures from the religious and educational spheres.

Leading Christians who have signed include Moore, the ERLC President and Warren, the Saddleback Church Pastor.

The protest is over Senate Bill 1146, a piece of proposed legislation currently being considered by California's state legislature which critics fear will dramatically curb the religious freedom of private academic institutions.

The statement denounces the Bill as "harmful to the free exercise of religion in higher education" and says that if enacted it "would severely restrict the ability of religious education institutions to set expectations of belief and conduct that align with the institution's religious tenets."

It goes on: "This legislation puts into principle that majoritarian beliefs are more deserving of legal protection, and that minority viewpoints are deserving of government harassment...Legislation of this nature threatens the integrity not only of religious institutions, but of any viewpoint wishing to exercise basic American freedoms, not least of which is the freedom of conscience."

Those who signed "do not necessarily agree with one another's religious views, but we agree on the necessity of the liberty to exercise these views," the statement said.

"Some of us disagree with the sexual ethics of orthodox Jews, Christians, and Muslims giving rise to this legislation, but we are unified in our resistance to the government setting up its own system of orthodoxy...Where the state can encroach on one religion's free exercise, it can just as easily trample on any other religion's free exercise. We therefore join in solidarity across religious lines to speak against Senate Bill 1146."

Other signatories to the statement include Biola University President Barry Corey, Zaytuna College President Hamza Yusuf Hanson, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference President Samuel Rodriguez, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik of Yeshiva University, former US Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia, and Imam Faizul Khan of the Islamic Society of Washington Area.

At the same time, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) has also condemned the Bill as an attack on religious liberty.

NAE President Leith Anderson said yesterday: "The California Assembly is voting to change Christian policies and practices to comply with the new doctrines of California state legislators. The bill is a threat to the mutually beneficial relationship that has existed between faith and higher education for the entire history of our nation."

Separately, Moore called the bill "un-American": "Applying legal or political pressure on institutions that disagree with the cultural majority of the moment is not merely unwise or unfair — it is un-American...A healthy American culture is one in which ideas can freely be discussed and debated, in good faith, among people who, though they disagree, would defend the right of the other to participate."

The Bill, introduced by Democratic California State Senator Ricardo Lara, is also called the Equity in Higher Education Act.

The proposed Bill "prohibits a person from being subjected to discrimination on the basis of specified attributes, including sex, in any program or activity conducted by a postsecondary educational institution that receives, or benefits from, state financial assistance or enrolls students who receive state student financial aid."

It "would, except as provided, specify that a postsecondary educational institution that is controlled by a religious organisation and that receives financial assistance from the state or enrolls students who receive state financial assistance is subject to that prohibition and violation of that prohibition may be enforced by a private right of action."

In April, Senator Lara argued that the Bill was necessary for the protection to LGBT students. "All students deserve to feel safe in institutions of higher education, regardless of whether they are public or private," Lara said.

"California has established strong protections for the LGBTQ community and private universities should not be able to use faith as an excuse to discriminate and avoid complying with state laws."