Victory for religious freedom campaigners in California Christian colleges struggle

California Senator Ricardo Lara has amended his education bill.Ricardo Lara

The sponsor of a California Senate bill that would have removed the exemption of religious colleges from anti-discrimination laws is dropping the provision following furious opposition.

Senator Ricardo Lara faced a wave of protest from senior evangelical leaders including Rick Warren and Russell Moore, with many from other traditions and faiths, over Senate Bill 1146. They argued it would dramatically curb the religious freedom of private academic institutions.

The bill would have allowed lawsuits from students who face discrimination because they are in same-sex relationships or because they are transgender and are required to use toilet and other facilities that do not correspond to their new gender. Many Christian institutions regard a prohibition on homosexual relationships as biblical faithfulness and do not accept the validity of gender reassignment.

Lara's amended bill will require religious colleges to disclose whether they have an exemption and report to the state when students are expelled for violating morality codes.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Lara said: "The goal for me has always been to shed the light on the appalling and unacceptable discrimination against LGBT students at these private religious institutions throughout California.

"I don't want to just rush a bill that's going to have unintended consequences so I want to take a break to really study this issue further."

He said he would pursue other legislation next year and may return to the controversial provision dropped yesterday.

The statement signed by Moore and Warren said the bill was "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".