The Corner

A Crucial Victory for California Christian Universities

In response to Haiti Blames Kerry For Violence

Today I wrote about the progressive culture war against California’s Christian universities. California legislators were primed to use state financial aid dollars to punish Christian schools for being Christian:

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.

Facing increasing opposition (including a multi-faith statement in opposition, a planned protest at the Capitol, and targeted PAC spending at the bill’s proponents) the bill’s sponsor has pulled the bill’s most dangerous provisions:

Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) is removing a provision of his bill that sought to take away the exemption of religious schools to anti-discrimination laws. Instead, he will press forward with the amended bill that would still require such schools to disclose if they have an exemption and report to the state when students are expelled for violating morality codes.

This is a victory, no doubt, but as noted above he still intends to push forward with legislation that “names and shames” religious colleges and requires them to report their disciplinary actions to the state:

“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,” Lara said.

“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,” the senator said. He said the requirement for schools to report expulsions based on morality codes to the state Commission on Student Aid will give him information on how common such cases are.

The lessons here are clear. Never surrender. Always seek to persuade. Prepare to protest. Exercise your constitutional rights and apply political pressure to the same extent that leftist activists do. When the California bill was first proposed, I spoke to social conservatives who simply presumed total defeat. Christians always lose in blue states, they said. The political battle was pointless, and only the courts could save us now. 

Yet I’ve seen Christians prevail even on the most progressive campuses through a combination of persistent persuasion and vigorous activism. This same combination prevailed in California today. It’s not a total victory, but the difference between the bill as amended and as proposed is so vast that university leaders are breathing a sigh of relief.

Religious colleges dodged a bullet, but the threat is hardly over. Senator Lara is threatening to “pursue other legislation next year,” so it will be vital for California Christians to spend that time building coalitions and signaling that resistance next year will be even more vigorous than this year. The other side won’t stop. Why should Christians?

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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