SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A California lawmaker has altered a controversial bill that once permitted homosexual and transgender students to sue their Christian college or university if they believe that they were discriminated against because of their personal lives.
As previously reported, S.B. 1146 was introduced in February by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, to close what Lara called a “loophole” in current federal and state law, including the religious exemption allowed under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Lara self-identifies as a “gay Catholic man.”
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance,” Title IX reads in part.
Christian identifying schools have increasingly requested the exemption because of the Obama administration’s view of the meaning of Title IX, and in May, the U.S. Department of Education released a list of colleges and universities that have requested exemptions. Six of those schools are in California.
California law also contains a provision in its non-discrimination law that exempts “an educational institution that is controlled by a religious organization if the application would not be consistent with the religious tenets of that organization.”
Lara’s bill requires schools that request an exemption from the federal statute to make a disclosure to both existing and potential students and faculty.
“Each postsecondary educational institution in this state that claims an exemption pursuant to Section 901(a)(3) of the federal Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 … shall disclose to current and prospective students, faculty members, and employees the basis for claiming the exemption,” Lara’s proposed bill reads in part.
The only exemption is in relation to programs that “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.”
Until this week, the legislation also permitted students to sue if they believed that they were discriminated against in housing, restroom use or other aspects of academic or campus life.
But following opposition from religious liberty groups, Lara announced on Wednesday that he had removed the language allowing lawsuits, but retained the requirement that Christian schools provide notice of their requested exemption from Title IX.
“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,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “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 advised the outlet, however, that he might revive the removed language in a separate bill at a later time.
University officials have now cautiously dropped their opposition to the proposal, stating in a letter to the Senator that “[p]ending review of this new language, we are pleased to change our position on this legislation from ‘oppose unless amended’ to ‘support.'” Schools such as Azusa Pacific University, Point Loma Nazarene University and William Jessup University were a part of the correspondence.
“The modifications to SB 1146 eliminate its most damaging parts, but those may well return in the next legislative session,” the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) also remarked in a press release. “Supporters of religious liberty, educational opportunity, and freedom of choice must remain vigilant and oppose any legislation that undermines these indispensable freedoms.”