Thursday, June 09, 2016

Legislation Attacks Religious Liberty of Christian Schools

A bill working its way through the California legislature would drastically undermine the religious liberty of Christian universities in the state.  If passed, it could become a model for attacks on Christian schools across the country.

In recent years, the government has required that educational institutions not "discriminate" against LGBT students lest they lose federal funding.  However, religious schools have been exempted from this requirement if their "religious tenets" affirmed biblical sexuality and marriage.

Now this exemption is at risk.

If California Senate Bill 1146  is enacted, the religious liberty exemption would apply only to "educational programs or activities . . . to prepare students to become ministers of the religion, to enter upon some other vocation of the religion, or to teach theological subjects pertaining to the religion."  In other words, theological seminaries might retain their religious liberty protections, but faith-based colleges and universities, and, eventually, Christian primary and secondary schools, would not.

As a statement from California's Biola University warns, the bill "functionally eliminates the religious liberty of all California faith-based colleges and universities who integrate spiritual life with the entire campus educational experience."  It would "eliminate religious liberty in California higher education as we know it and rob tens of thousands of students of their access to a distinctly faith-based higher education."

According to the Biola University statement, other consequences of the bill for faith-based institutions include:
  • Faith-based institutions in California would no longer be able to require a profession of faith of their students.
  • These institutions would no longer be able to integrate faith throughout the teaching curriculum.
  • These institutions would no longer be able to require chapel attendance for students, an integral part of the learning experience at faith-based universities.
  • These institutions would no longer be able to require core units of Bible courses.
  • Athletic teams would no longer be able to lead faith-based community service programs.
All this to fix what many observers regard as a "non-existent problem."  Students who apply and attend colleges do so voluntarily.  There are no victims here—except for the institutions who will be singled out for their countercultural religious convictions.

There's even more to the story.

The First Amendment, often called our "First Freedom," states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."  However, in the past few years, observers have noticed a distinction between "freedom of religion" and "freedom of worship" in statements by political leaders such as President Obama and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.  What could happen if American society moves from protecting "freedom of religion" and instead only guarantees "freedom of worship"?

The California bill is one answer:  Schools that teach "worship" (theology and ministry training) would have some measure of religious liberty, but all other Christian schools would not.  Extending this outcome to its logical (and, in my opinion, inevitable) conclusion, pastors would be free to address issues such as same-sex marriage only in sermons delivered in worship services.  If they speak publicly on such issues in other forums, they could be accused of hate speech.  Church facilities would be tax-exempt only if they are used expressly for worship—offices, gyms, and educational spaces could be taxed.  Our personal religious convictions would be protected only when they are expressed during worship services or in private.

The California bill is just one example of this frightening trend.  If it prevails against Christian universities, will the other outcomes I have mentioned be far behind?  If it applies to LGBT "discrimination," what other religious convictions will eventually be punished?

Truly Christian schools—like churches and people—cannot separate faith from the rest of life. Our call to discipleship is clear.  As Jesus taught: "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23).

We need to pray for our leaders to affirm the religious liberties our forefathers died to protect.  And we need to exercise that liberty by loving and serving God every day in every dimension of life (Mark 12:30), whatever the cost.

For further analysis of S.B 1146 and its effects, read this article from the Christian Post.  And if you want a glimpse of the kind of persecution a Christian political candidate in California can experience, read this article from the L.A. Progressive.

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