California's legislature is trying to tighten the screws on Christian colleges in that state. Here, as best as I understand it, is the legal situation. California's S.B. 1146 (text here) amends a law that applies to all schools in the state whose students receive state money for their education. It amends it in such a way that religious schools will find it much harder to get an exemption from "discrimination" provisions that apply to all the usual areas, including homosexuality, the transgender agenda, and even religion! That's right: Religious schools in California whose students receive government aid, despite being religious schools, wouldn't be allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion! So they wouldn't be able to keep their distinctively religious character at all. The only schools that could get an exemption would be those that are controlled wholly by a denomination and whose purpose is confined to training students for the ministry. So Christian liberal arts colleges would either have to forego all government funding for their students or else abandon their distinctive moral and religious characteristics. As far as I can tell, if the schools were to forego all state and federal aid both for the school and for all of the students, they could avoid the impact of the legislation. I'm open to being corrected on that perception.
So this would mean that such a college would have to abandon its right to "discriminate" on the basis of religion in hiring its professors or require students to make a profession of faith in order to attend. It would also mean, as far as I can tell, that "transgender" students would have to be housed in the dorm of their choice. It would also presumably mean that moral prohibitions against homosexual activity would have to be abandoned. And as for teaching complementarianism in gender roles, fuhgetabout it! If you have to abandon your school's religious character altogether, it follows as a matter of course that secular feminist students, not to mention faculty, are going to feel discriminated against if you teach that only men should be ordained or anything regressive of the kind. Christian colleges would simply have to be transformed into secular colleges unless they go "full Hillsdale" and change their funding model to operate without any state or federal funding for their students.
That might not be a bad idea at all, as the very existence of this legislation and Obama's recent monkeying with Title IX amply demonstrate. But doing it overnight might well prove impossible, leading at least some of the approximately 40 institutions affected to have to close their doors.
By stripping exempt status from these institutions, SB 1146 encourages a "cause of action" (that is, a lawsuit) against them by anyone who believes he has been discriminated against in any of the usual categories. I note that provisions in the bill have been struck out that would have encouraged lawsuits even if an institution does meet the new, stringent requirements for receiving a state exemption. That confused me temporarily while I was researching this post, but I now understand: If an institution receives state funding and doesn't get a religious exemption, the institution would still be open to lawsuit. The amendment of the proposed law merely gives a little breathing space to the few schools that could still get an exemption.
One report has it that a new amendment is in the works in negotiations that allegedly would "preserve the existing religious exemption and satisfy Sen. Lara’s concerns about protecting LGBT students who attend Christian colleges. We remain encouraged that Sen. Lara has stated that it is not his intention to restrict the rights of religious schools to operate in accordance with their faith."
Uh-oh. That doesn't sound good at all. To my pessimistic eye that reads like it means this: Christian schools would have to compromise their principles on the homosexual and transgender agenda in order to avoid lawsuit, but they would be graciously permitted to continue to require the profession of various religious creedal beliefs by their faculty and students. So, just sacrifice your moral compass and we'll allow you to hang onto all of that theological mumbo-jumbo. And worse, it sounds like some Christian colleges would be pathetically grateful for such a compromise. I hope I'm wrong, but that's what it sounds like to me.
Now, it would be easy enough for the semi-libertarian-inclined, like me, to get a little smirky and smug about receipt of public funds. I've been saying since I was a political young pup just cutting my teeth on the voucher issue (which was all the rage in conservative circles at the time) that government money is like a drug that the institution becomes addicted to. Then when you're required to compromise your principles, you can't afford to say no.
And those points are still worth making. Do remember these events next time the question of public money tuition vouchers for Christian schools comes up. Just say "no." That kind of thing is considered "indirectly benefiting" from public money, and it is as certain as God made little green apples that it would come with these sorts of strings attached.
But it would be a kind of naivete simply to shake one's head at the folly of accepting government money and move on to the next story. There is not the slightest question that these sorts of restrictions are ultimately intended to be applied to everybody, without exception, all Christian schools, all private colleges and even K-12 schools, even if they don't receive a penny of public money. This is just the start. It wouldn't do to do the old thing: "First they came for the schools that take public money, and I said nothing because I'm against accepting public money."
I'm not even sure the term "trial balloon" is the one we want here. It's just another step in the left's totalitarian agenda. For example, DC's "Human Rights Amendment Act" back in 2014 targeted (as far as I know) all K-12 schools in the nation's capital with "anti-discrimination" requirements, not only those that take government money. Some googling fails to tell me decisively what happened with that stripping of religious exemptions. There was some talk of a "measure of disapproval" by Congress, also of defunding any enforcement of those provisions by Congress, but I can't even find out what ultimately happened and whether the DC requirement for all Christian schools remains the letter of the law.
I strongly urge California Christian colleges to stand firm on their moral identity, not "just" their other theological identity. Accept no substitutes for full freedom to operate in accordance with your Christian faith. And start looking now for alternative funding streams.