Faith-based colleges””and religious liberty broadly””face an uncertain future in California. State legislators in Sacramento are considering a bill called the Equity in Higher Education Act, ostensibly to prohibit religious schools from discriminating against students. Yet it would actually create legal ambiguity, forcing judges to wade into the murky waters of theology to disentangle true religious belief from discriminatory animus.
The bill will be put before the California state Assembly Appropriations Committee in August. If enacted, it could spark similar efforts around the country. Yet instead of regulating the internal affairs of religious institutions, California could simply require them to be clear about their rules. This compromise would protect religious liberty, avoid dangerous legal ambiguity and prevent discrimination.
Under current California law, religious colleges that receive state funds can be exempt from antidiscrimination laws. Institutions qualify for exemptions if they are “controlled by a religious organization” and if application of antidiscrimination laws “would not be consistent with the religious tenets of that organization.” This is what allows faith-based colleges to, for example, enforce a code of conduct that bans same-sex relationships.