- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2016

A California state senator is dropping his bid to pass legislation that would strip exemptions for religious universities from state anti-discrimination law, one day after Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith leaders sent an open letter denouncing the bill.

Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara said he would amend SB 1146 to strike its most controversial language, which religious colleges say would have imperiled their existence.

“The goal for me has always been to shed the light on the appalling and unacceptable discrimination against LGBT students at these private religious colleges,” Mr. Lara told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday. “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.”

SB 1146 threatened to bar students who receive state and federal grants from attending faith-based colleges in California. Opponents of the legislation have noted that these grants are awarded disproportionately to low-income minority students who are often unable to attend private institutions without them.

The bill also would have opened schools to lawsuits from students who claimed they were discriminated against by contravening religious teaching, especially on matters of sexuality and gender. A school could be sued, for instance, if it denied a same-sex couple campus marital housing or regulated bathrooms and locker rooms on the basis of biological sex.

If SB 1146 were to become law, religious colleges would still be forced to publicly disclose whether they have been exempted from state anti-discrimination law. Faith-based schools also would be required to report to the state when they expel students for behavioral violations.

Mr. Lara would not rule out reintroducing the controversial aspects of the legislation next session.

Gregory S. Baylor, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, said proponents of religious liberty must remain vigilant against attacks on religious liberty.

“The modifications to SB 1146 eliminate its most damaging parts, but those may well return in the next legislative session,” Mr. Baylor said in a statement. “Supporters of religious liberty, educational opportunity, and freedom of choice must remain vigilant and oppose any legislation that undermines these indispensable freedoms.”

A coalition of Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders assembled under the umbrella of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission on Tuesday called on Mr. Lara to abandon SB 1146.

“While we do not all agree on religious matters, we all agree that the government has no place in discriminating against poor religious minorities or in pitting a religious education institution’s faith-based identity against its American identity,” the group said in their letter.

Religious schools, such as Azusa Pacific University, and Point Loma Nazarene University and William Jessup University, launched a spirited campaign in opposition to SB 1146, inundating the California senate committee with complaints about the legislation.

After Mr. Lara made his announcement, the universities released a letter announcing their support for the legislation as amended.

“Pending review of this new language, we are pleased to change our position on the legislation from ‘oppose unless amended’ to ‘support,’” the universities said in the letter.

• Bradford Richardson can be reached at brichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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