LA archbishop: Bill would hurt minority, low-income college students
August 9th, 2016
By Valerie Schmalz
Legislation that purports to protect LGBTQ college students and employees from discrimination would violate the religious freedom of faith-based colleges and jeopardize California financial aid grants for tens of thousands of Latino, African-American, Asian and low-income students, said Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez and a prominent Protestant cleric in a joint statement issued Aug. 2.
SB1146 would block Cal Grants – a significant source of financial aid for California residents – to any higher education institution that did not comply with the provisions of the legislation. Only seminaries and departments with a directly religious purpose would be exempt.
SB 1146 was placed in the suspense file of the California Assembly Appropriations Committee on Aug. 3, after it passed the state Senate 26-13 on May 26. The bill is slated for a vote of the committee on Aug. 11, and is expected to be sent to the floor of the Assembly for a full vote. If it passes, it would go back to the Senate for concurrence and then to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature. The legislative session concludes at the end of August.
SB1146 “… would force faith-based institutions to choose between compromising their deeply held beliefs or risking an endless wave of costly litigation to defend themselves. This is a choice that no individual or institution should face in our state or in our country,” wrote Archbishop Gomez, leader of the most populous diocese in California, and Bishop Charles E. Blake, presiding bishop, Church of God in Christ and pastor of West Angeles Church of God in Christ.
“But those who would truly be punished by this bill are California’s low-income and minority families — including millions served by our respective faith communities here in Los Angeles,” the two clerics wrote.
SB 1146 was introduced by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and co-authored by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and was sponsored by LGBTQ rights organization Equality California and the ACLU. The California Catholic Conference, which is the public policy arm of the California bishops, opposes the legislation.
Existing California law exempts religious schools from nondiscrimination laws in cases where applying these laws “would not be consistent with the religious tenets of that organization.”
“This is sensible and reflects our nation’s founding principles of religious freedom,” Archbishop Gomez and Protestant Bishop Blake wrote. “For years now, this policy has worked well, enabling church-run colleges and universities to hire personnel and establish policies and expectations regarding religious practice and personal conduct that reflect their beliefs and values.”
Sen. Lara said in a press release that Senate Bill 1146 closes “a loophole that allows private universities to discriminate against students and staff based on their gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.”
But Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Blake said the legislation would hurt minority students, by depriving them of opportunity. Christian and other private nonprofit colleges in California serve a diverse student body – nearly 60 percent are minorities and nearly 90 percent need financial aid, including Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, the two clerics wrote.
The legislation is very intrusive, Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Blake wrote. “Detailed provisions in the legislation include rules for bathroom use and sleeping arrangements in dormitories. The bill even has the government setting guidelines for what ‘religious practices’ and ‘rules for moral conduct’ will be acceptable on these campuses,” Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Blake wrote.
The legislation is “unnecessary to achieve the goals of protecting the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender students,” they wrote. The “simple solution is to require that faith-based schools clearly state — on their websites and in written materials — what they believe, what accommodations they intend to provide to students, and what will be expected of students in terms of religious practice and personal conduct.” Most already do so, they said.
Finally, they said, attending a faith-based institution is a choice that those who do so make “because they are seeking an academic environment and community in which they can live, learn and serve with others who share their beliefs, values and aspirations.”
From August 11, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.