Politics & Policy

California Progressives Exploit the Poor to Punish Christians

(Kjetil Kolbjornsrud/Dreamstime)
In the name of tolerance, the state's legislature would deny Christian universities and disadvantaged students their constitutional rights.

EDITOR’S NOTE: After this piece was published, the author of California SB 1146 announced he was amending the bill in response to complaints from religious-freedom advocates. David French explains that news here.

California is on the verge of passing one of the most malicious anti-Christian bills in modern American history. It deliberately uses state financial power over California’s poorest citizens to punish Christian colleges and universities for upholding many of the most basic tenets of the Christian faith.

The bill, SB 1146, requires even private Christian universities to comply with extraordinarily broad anti-discrimination provisions if they accept even a single student who receives state financial assistance. This means opening single-sex dorms to transgender students. This means requiring schools to acknowledge and respect same-sex marriages to the same extent that they acknowledge and respect traditional marriages. This means requiring schools to draw no distinction between same-sex behavior and heterosexual behavior in student conduct policies.

And that’s just the start. The bill also purports to publicly shame Christian colleges, requiring them to submit documentation to the state — for publication — in the event they choose to exercise their constitutional and statutory rights to opt out of Title IX, a federal statute that explicitly creates exemptions for religious colleges.

The law’s real-world effects are clear: Faithful Christian colleges will pay a potentially severe financial price simply for being Christian, and California’s poorest students won’t be able to attend the university of their choice. California financial aid primarily benefits the economically disadvantaged, who are now pawns in the progressive assault on Christianity.

SB 1146 represents a dramatic departure from traditional financial-aid regimes, under which students have the liberty to use federal and state financial aid to attend the college of their choice. Students use the GI Bill, for example, to fund their educations at public and private schools, including religious private schools.

The goal of financial aid is to help the students, not to enforce ideological conformity in higher education. But radical progressives want to flip that formula on its head, using students to enforce a specific ideological agenda.

RELATED: California’s Culture War against Religious Liberty

These radicals claim that they’re merely trying to protect vulnerable LGBT students from discrimination, but exactly zero California citizens are required to attend Christian institutions. Every single LGBT student can find an alternative secular education, and most of them will: The population of poor LGBT students who want to attend an orthodox Christian institution is vanishingly small. Few “out and proud” gay students want to attend schools that teach biblical inerrancy. Even fewer transgender students want to attend schools that teach that there is no distinction between sex and gender, and that sex is fixed at birth.

The law’s real-world effects are clear: Faithful Christian colleges will pay a potentially severe financial price simply for being Christian.

To protect a nonexistent class of “victims,” then, the California legislature seeks to punish students who actually believe the tenets of the Christian faith and who want to attend the same schools that wealthier Christians are able to afford and attend. They seek to force Christian schools to choose between their sincere, religiously motivated desire to educate California’s poorest citizens and some of the most basic tenets of the faith pertaining to vital matters of identity, sexuality, and marriage.

But this is standard operating procedure for progressive culture warriors. In almost two full decades of defending religious liberty on college campuses, I can count on my fingers the number of cases in which LGBT students were actually prevented from participating in Christian organizations they wanted to join or lead. And I can recall exactly zero instances in which those who desired to join such an organization didn’t also desire to change that organization’s message on matters of sexuality and scriptural interpretation. In other words, they were joining not to follow but rather as an act of personal activism.

RELATED: The American Church Needs to Get Serious about Religious Liberty, Now

Yet colleges often treat Christian organizations as if they’re the Klan reborn, preemptively tossing them from campus and publicly shaming them for their faith, all in the name of “civil rights.” They claim to be saving Americans from the new “Jim Crow,” but the reality is that their systematic, large-scale acts of anti-Christian discrimination bear far more resemblance to Jim Crow than does a Christian organization asking that its leaders belong to the Christian faith or a Christian college asking that its students remain sexually pure until a Christian marriage.

#related#Yesterday, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission sent a multi-faith letter to the California Assembly — I signed, along with dozens of leaders from various faiths — asking state legislators to respect religious liberty and consider the interests of their most disadvantaged constituents. But the battle against the bill won’t be limited to letters alone. California legislators can expect protests and litigation because the bill is a bad idea and it amounts to an unconstitutional assault on the First Amendment.

To California legislators, some students are more equal than others. Those who have state-approved beliefs can use the force of law to try to bring Christians institutions to their knees. Those who follow Christ, by contrast, are reviled, their rights circumscribed day by day.

This is bigotry in the name of tolerance. The stench of repression and hypocrisy pervades the air. But what else would we expect from the radical Left? In modern higher education, when the cause is “social justice,” malice is a virtue.

— David French is an attorney and a staff writer at National Review.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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