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Bill: No LGBT Bias at Religious Schools

  • In this photo taken Thursday, July 21, 2016, Anthony Villarreal ties his running shoe at his home in Citrus Heights, Calif. Villarreal had been a long distance runner for William Jessup University's country and track teams, before he was expelled in 2013, which, he says, was because the school found out he is gay. Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens introduced SB1146 which would expand state LGBT protections by removing the state's exemption for religious colleges and universities for anti-discrimination policies. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

  • In this photo taken Thursday, July 21, 2016, Anthony Villarreal poses outside of William Jessup University in Rocklin, Calif. Villarreal had been a member of the school's cross country and track teams before he was expelled in 2013, which, he says, was because the university found out he is gay. Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens introduced SB1146 which would expand state LGBT protections by removing the state's exemption for religious colleges and universities for anti-discrimination policies. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)



Associated Press
Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sacramento, Calif. — The conflict between religious freedom and gay rights has a new battleground — California’s religious colleges and universities.

A bill moving through the Legislature would remove a longstanding exemption from anti-discrimination laws for religious institutions, potentially exposing the schools to civil rights lawsuits from students and employees.

Some schools call the measure an attack on their free exercise of religion and say the exemption allows them to craft campus policies in line with their faith.

Currently, religious institutions can assign housing based on sex, not gender identity, and discipline students for violating moral codes of conduct, which can include anti-transgender or strict sexuality provisions.

The bill tries to force schools to “change 2,000-year-old teachings to be in line with LGBT ideology,” said Derry Connolly, president of John Paul the Great Catholic University in Escondido.

“It’s no longer ‘live and let live.’ It’s ‘If you don’t toe the line with us, we’ll take you to court big time,’ ” he said.

The law faces an upcoming test in the state Assembly after passing the Senate.

Bill supporters say it would be the first law of its kind in the nation and would create a safe space for LGBT students.

Its author, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, argues that students who attend religious colleges or universities should have the same rights and protections as students who attend other schools.

“Opponents of LGBT equality have been using the pretext of exercise of religion to justify discrimination,” said Rick Zbur, executive director of the advocacy group Equality California.

Under the proposed state law, schools would also have to disclose if they have been granted exemptions from federal Title IX rules against discrimination to prospective and current students, faculty and staff members.

Some religious school officials worry the measure would mean they wouldn’t be able to sign an agreement with the state necessary to accept Cal Grant funding given by the state to low-income students. School officials say, in order to sign, they need the exemption to laws prohibiting discrimination.

“They’re putting a gun to our head: ‘Either change the way you believe and practice your faith, or you won’t be able to participate in Cal Grant,’ ” said John Jackson, president of William Jessup University. “We want a license to be faithful and don’t want the state to have a license to discriminate.”

Patti Colston, a spokeswoman for the California Student Aid Commission, said nothing in the bill would explicitly prevent a religious institution from voluntarily participating in Cal Grant. It would, however, create a path to legal recourse for allegations of discrimination.

Anthony Villarreal, 25, a former track and cross country athlete at William Jessup, is among those who say they would have benefited if the law were in place. He says the university dismissed him in 2013 after learning that he lived with his boyfriend.

 

 

“It isn’t out to attack Christian universities or wipe them off the face of the planet,” he said. “They shouldn’t have the legal right or entitlement to discriminate against anyone.”