Faith-based colleges and universities in California dodged a major threat to their existence from Democrat state lawmakers, but the leader of an effort to block financial aid from the state to schools that do not adhere to the left’s position on sexuality vows to bring the matter back next year.
As reported in June, Democrats led by State Sen. Ricardo Lara were pushing an amendment to the California Equity in Higher Education Act. The act forbids discrimination based on religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. But it also contains a significant exemption for religious colleges and universities, allowing them to hold students and staff to codes of conduct and use faith and other criteria in admissions and hiring.
The Lara bill originally called for removing that exemption, meaning student tuition assistance through the state’s Cal Grant program could be cut off to those schools.
But following the legislature’s summer recess, Lara unexpectedly changed his bill.
“The bill was significantly modified and the most devastating provisions were removed by the bill’s sponsor,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Gregory Baylor, who also directs the ADF’s Religious Schools Team.
“Namely, the provision that says if a school wants to participate in the Cal Grant program, they can’t consider religion, they can’t have traditional Christian codes of conduct having to do with sexuality, they can’t consider religious beliefs in employment and admissions. Those things have been taken out of the bill,” Baylor told WND and Radio America.
The bill does require the schools to inform the California Student Aid Commission that they have an exemption and to inform student and staff applicants of their exemption. Baylor said those policies already existed.
Sen. Lara has not fully explained his decision to withdraw the more contentious provisions from his bill. Lara simply said he did not want the bill to create unintended consequences. Baylor believes fierce resistance from the schools and church leaders played a major role in Lara backing down.
“There was a vigorous effort on behalf of the schools themselves lobbying against passage of this legislation,” he said. “The schools activated their students, the parents of those students, their employees, their alumni. And many of California’s churches, including prominent leaders of African-American and Hispanic churches, made their voice known to the legislature.”
Listen to the WND/Radio America interview with Gregory Baylor:
Lara’s decision to back down is even more stunning considering that some liberal groups were pushing him to go even further than targeting exemptions in his legislation.
“The ACLU, in one of those committees that the bill passed, testified against the bill, not because they understand that it violates religious liberty, which it does, but rather because they didn’t believe the bill was punitive enough,” Baylor explained.
The ACLU was not alone.
“We heard similar stories about Planned Parenthood, hoping to use this bill to punish schools that have pro-life values and policies,” Baylor said.
But there is no time for the faith-based schools to breathe easy. Sen. Lara said he plans to pursue this issue again next year because of the “appalling and unacceptable discrimination against LGBT students at these private religious institutions throughout California.”
Baylor said Lara and other liberals are relentless on this issue for many reasons, beginning with having little appreciation for the value these schools add to American society and the hope they provide for those coming from difficult backgrounds.
“They don’t comprehend how these schools, uniquely in many instances, reach out to economically disadvantaged and minority students,” Baylor said. “I don’t think they value the character education these institutions offer, the quality character of the graduates, the contributions they make to our economy and our society. I think they undervalue that.”
A more basic assessment, Baylor said, is that Democrats and liberal groups have zero tolerance for views contrary to their own.
“The purpose of a law like this is to make a statement that their views of sexuality are correct and Christian and other traditional religious views of sexuality are wrong,” he said.
Baylor said the schools in question certainly have codes of conduct for students and employees, such as no sexual activity outside the marriage of one man and one woman. He said Lara and other critics have this image of Christian schools expelling gay or lesbian students as a knee-jerk reaction to violating the code. He said that narrative is false.
“If they encounter a student who has violated these rules, the first response is not to suspend or expel these students,” Baylor said. “I think that’s a myth that opponents of these schools have propagated. The real response is one of compassion, of ministry and of redemption.”
If lawmakers forbid Cal Grant dollars from helping to pay for tuition at faith-based schools, Baylor said poor and minority students will be hurt most.
“They are more interested in making an ideological and political statement than in protecting the interests of economically disadvantaged students,” he said.
As for the schools, Baylor said they would be left scrambling.
“I’m not convinced that significant sum of money is available to them right now,” he said. “Most of these institutions, although they’re economically stable, don’t have the endowments of a Princeton or a Stanford.”
Baylor said if the schools could not raise the money to stay open, many thousands of students would be forced to make other decisions. He said many thousands would be forced into the University of California or California State University systems, throwing both of them into chaos. However, he said another possibility is even more disturbing.
“The worst possible outcome is these students who would have gone to a school like Westmont or Thomas Aquinas College, if they can’t afford it, they may not have anyplace else to go,” Baylor said. “They end up not having a college education at all just because there are folks who want to make an ideological statement to show their cultural power about issues of marriage and sexuality. And that’s unfortunate.”