Students who believe they are discriminated against may sue.
The legislation has passed the Senate and is headed to the Assembly Judiciary Committee, after passing out of the Higher Education Committee.
Quincy Masteller, general counsel of Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., said the bill “in essence eliminates the religious exemption that has been in the Calif. education code for many years.”
“In many ways it’s an existential threat to religious colleges that want to live according to the principles of their faith in their community,” he told CNA. The long history of religious institutions of higher education could be lost.
“That’s the stakes we’re looking at,” Masteller said.
Dolejsi said the bill’s consequences are still unclear, given federal rules and other religious liberty protections. The bill could also be amended.
For his part, Masteller thought passage of the bill in its current form was likely.
Observers of the bill are waiting to see what the bill’s final language will be after Tuesday’s hearing in the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
“Certainly no one wants anyone to be discriminated against, but at the same time those who infuse faith into their particular education curriculum and expect certain behaviors should have the right to operate that way,” Dolejsi commented.
The Catholic conference’s concerns include the bill’s redefinition of a faith-based organization. The conference opposes the bill unless there are amendments “to clarify it in a way that allows faith-based organizations and institutions to operate in a way consistent with who they are,” Dolejsi continued.
He suggested the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-San Francisco) has a narrower view of faith-based institutions than what the Catholic community would find acceptable.
The senator has indicated that faith-based colleges and universities may have their policies, procedures, and statements of faith, but Dolejsi questioned whether he was willing to let the schools live by them. If someone felt these schools are discriminatory and took legal action, they would have to spend “a significant amount” of resources in court, according to Dolejsi.
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“California has established strong protections for the LGBTQ community and private universities should not be able to use faith as an excuse to discriminate and avoid complying with state laws,” Sen. Lara said. “No university should have a license to discriminate.”
Backers of the Senate bill include Equality California, the Los Angeles LGBT Center and the Transgender Law Center.
Masteller said Thomas Aquinas College was guided by Catholic teaching, including the teaching that God created man male and female.
“There’s implications to that in how we live,” he said.
“The college has no discriminatory intent towards any person,” he explained. “What we do discriminate against is conduct or activity that violates our Catholic character.”
For instance, he said, the college would not allow a transgender male to live in the dorms of the opposite sex, nor would it allow a same-sex marriage ceremony in its Catholic chapel.