On Taxpayer-funded Christian Colleges’ Anti-Gay Policies

“The California state Senate has passed a bill that would make it harder for Christian institutions to obtain religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT individuals,” writes Eric Metaxas.

An encouraging sentence, but not to the person who wrote it, whose headline declared: “A License to Discriminate: California’s Assault on Christian Colleges.” This neatly echoed other headlines of nearly unadulterated panic: “California Bill Would Ultimately Erase Religious Schools” (Federalist), “An Imminent Attack on Religious Liberty” (Master’s Seminary), “California Bill Called ‘Existential Threat’ to Catholic Education” (Crux), and so on.

California’s bill, S.B. 1146, which passed the state senate and is working its way toward a vote in the state assembly, would decree that only colleges training ministers and theology teachers would be allowed to claim exemption from Title IX laws, which explicitly protect gender-based discrimination but have been used successfully for decades to also protect LGBT Americans from mistreatment (and in late 2015, a federal judge all but sealed the deal).

The bill would “bar colleges receiving state funding from making employment, student housing, admission and other decisions on the basis of gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation,” as Catholic leaders said in the Crux, calling the whole thing “a restriction of religious freedom.”

In other words, should a religious university that receives state funds wish to deny a homosexual or transgender American entry into the school or a teaching position, among other possibilities, on the sole basis of their sexual orientation or identity, said university would be unable to do so.

This would only apply to a university that “receives, or benefits from, state financial assistance or enrolls students who receive state student financial aid,” in the words of the bill. It would also require schools that do get the exemption to prominently make this known on their websites, at student orientation, and so on, to warn LGBT individuals of certain possibilities. LGBT students or employees at exempted schools would also be able to sue if discriminated against.

Over 40 California colleges currently qualify for Title IX exemptions, and of course many more across the U.S. The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT civil rights group, calls the exemptions a “license to discriminate” — phrasing Metaxas may appreciate. This issue is only part of a larger social problem —Republican states are fighting to allow private businesses and organizations to refuse service to gay people, and in 28 states you can still be fired just for being a homosexual (California, however, is not one of them).

The law set off the usual hysteria (Holly Scheer, writing in the Federalist above, seems to think this opens the door to government bans on “chapel services,” “prayer events” at graduation, even “theology classes” themselves) and the platitudes that have defined unequal treatment and prejudice throughout American history, such as the we don’t serve your kind here, but plenty of places do (Scheer: “No one forces people to attend religious schools… California alone has hundreds of college and university options…only 42 are religious”).

But proponents of the measure point out that, as one state politician said, “California should not be using taxpayer money to subsidize colleges that choose to discriminate against LGBT students.” American Atheists wrote, “It’s a very simple test for us: If you’re getting taxpayer money, follow the damn law. Accepting government support means accepting government regulation.”

After all, taxpayer funds come from all Californians — gay or straight, trans or cis, close allies and violent bigots. Should religious universities wish to deny, or terminate at will, employment or enrollment for LGBT people, one would think at the very least taxpayers of diverse backgrounds and views should not have to support the universities.

Further, though this would perhaps never cross Scheer’s mind, some LGBT Americans are in fact Christians, and may desire the freedom to attend religious schools without fear of persecution or retribution.

Were taxpayer-funded universities able to legally turn away Christians, one might call it a “license to discriminate” — in the accurate sense, that is.

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