Two troubling episodes from California about the state of Christian higher education and religious liberty in the LoveWins™ era.
First, Robert Oscar Lopez, a Cal State Northridge English professor who is gay but chaste Christian, resigned his tenured position after years of harassment by gay colleagues and their allies. Excerpt:
I didn’t want leave without pay. I didn’t want leave with pay. I just wanted to leave. The liberal academy is a place full of secular activists channeling their own unhappiness into interminable hostilities against whichever conservative Christian they can find within a three-mile radius. I had served for eight years under a dean trained in Women’s Studies, surrounded in her executive suite by lesbians and feminists, who hated me for celebrating the beauty and glory of chastity and Biblical love. I could not have my relationship with Jesus Christ and this job simultaneously. The choice was not that difficult.
While they couldn’t block my tenure legally because I’d made the requirements, they ended up harassing me at every turn with false accusations and veiled threats. I was accused of inciting racist screams at the 2012 graduation, then accused of being lewd and having erections while teaching in 2013, then accused of not giving students a rubric in 2014, accused of disappearing for two weeks without telling my chair in 2014, and accused of forcing students to attend a conference against their will in 2014.
Each of these accusations was false and I proved them false, but to defend myself took so much time and documentation, it really drives you insane and makes it impossible to do your work.
Then in 2015, the accusations escalated, with students claiming I took them to an anti-gay conference like a KKK rally, passed out hate-filled brochures, insulted someone’s ovaries, lied about funding, tried to stop students from “reporting” me for sexism, and withheld an award against a feminist student for her views. The accusations started getting more numerous, vaguer, and more based on hearsay that I couldn’t disprove no matter how much documentation I kept.
Then I realized a colleague had sent me emails with booby-trap links to homosexual pornography, and that, had I clicked on them, those emails would have placed cookies on my work computer. I frantically tried to scan my computer to see if any such tricks had placed anything scary on my PC, but the university said they would not provide a forensic expert to review the computer with me there.
People had gone into my office unannounced when I had called in sick, and I realized at any time they could frame me for anything and I might end up in more serious trouble than tenure was worth. I realized at some point that my fear of losing tenure was forcing me to play their games by their illogical rules, and I risked becoming as crazy as they were. Also, I began to fear that I might be so overwhelmed that I might actually fumble, or I might get accused of something that would be impossible to disprove.
Have we reached the point where public institutions require us to silo off into our Christian corners?
Robert Oscar Lopez: If you have means and if Christian communities can gather resources, I think investing in Christian education and getting out of state education is a good idea. So yes.
Second, a bill has passed the California Senate, and is headed to the Assembly (the lower house), that would make it very difficult for some of the state’s Christian colleges and universities to continue to operate — this, under the pretense of protecting LGBTs from discrimination.
Biola University characterizes it this way:
The proposed legislation seeks to narrow a religious exemption in California only to those institutions of higher learning that prepare students for pastoral ministry. This functionally eliminates the religious liberty for students of all California faith-based colleges and universities who integrate spiritual life with the entire campus educational experience. Prayer or requiring chapel services, spiritual formation groups and ministry service are an integral part of the educational experience for faith-based campuses, and they are at risk if SB 1146 is passed. In addition, it would eliminate religious liberty in California higher education, as we know it today, and deprive tens of thousands of students of their access to a distinctly faith-based higher education.
The AICCU (Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities) and Biola President Barry H. Corey have engaged with Sen. Lara and his staff on a number of occasions to voice concerns and to propose amendments to SB 1146 that would both preserve the existing religious exemption and satisfy Sen. Lara’s primary concerns about protecting LGBT students who attend Christian colleges. We remain hopeful that Sen. Lara with be a However, there have been no resulting amendments.
If passed as is, this bill would significantly challenge Biola University’s ability to continue in the mission that has guided us for 108 years.
As many as 42 faith-based institutions of higher education in California could be impacted. Some examples of how the bill would impact faith-based institutions include:
- Faith-based institutions in California would no longer be able to require a profession of faith of their students.
These institutions would no longer be able to integrate faith throughout the teaching curriculum.
- These institutions would no longer be able to require chapel attendance for students, an integral part of the learning experience at faith-based universities.
- These institutions would no longer be able to require core units of Bible courses, nor offer students spiritual direction or pastoral care.
- Athletic teams would no longer be able to lead faith-based community service programs.
A California state bill its sponsors say will prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity at private universities is threatening to expose faith-based schools to enormous legal threats, school officials warn.
SB 1146, introduced in February by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, which passed the state Senate May 26, is designed to close “a little-known loophole” in California law under which private colleges can make admission, housing, and faculty decisions based on gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, according to a press release from Lara’s office.
Lara is part of the state Legislature’s seven-member California Legislative Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Caucus, which advocates for LGBT rights.
“Under state law, at least 34 California universities are exempt and do not have to comply with state nondiscrimination laws, leaving thousands of students open to discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Lara said in a statement provided to The Daily Signal. “These universities have a license to discriminate and students have absolutely no recourse. Addressing this issue is long overdue.”
But the bill, if it become law, would dramatically affect the ability of religious colleges to be religious:
This is because SB 1146 dramatically tightens the criteria under which a school can cite freedom of conscience in making curricular and administrative decisions.
California’s education code already explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, but 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.”
Under Lara’s legislation, that exemption would shrink dramatically, covering only “certain educational programs and activities of a postsecondary educational institution that is controlled by a religious organization.” The exception would apply 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.”
As a result, administrators at faith-based colleges worry that they will soon have no legal recourse to make decisions based on their religion.
“The problem is that it provides a course of legal action for any student that feels they’ve been discriminated against in any other setting,” Jackson said, adding:
So if this bill passes, and a student comes to our school and says, ‘I feel really uncomfortable that chapel was mandatory, or that the professor opened class in prayer, or with community service’—that is a required part of our faith commitments—the bill as written creates a private right of action, meaning that the student would have the right to sue a school over what faith-based schools consider a core part of our spiritual life.
You might say, “If you don’t like the principles under which a Christian college operates, why choose to go there?” But that is not enough for the LGBT lobby:
Erin Green, a senior at Biola and executive director of Biola Equal Ground, an unofficial LGBT student support group, said it’s a common misconception that students who are LGBT wouldn’t choose to attend an evangelical Christian college.
“Here’s the thing – who’s paying for college?” Green said. “Parents are paying for college and if they’ve grown up in an evangelical environment, a parent is choosing the college. A lot of students have no choice.”
So the religious liberty of scores of Christian colleges must be taken away or at least severely curtailed.
The handwriting is on the wall in California. And what starts in California doesn’t stay in California. The LGBT lobby and Democratic legislators will continue this persecution of Christian colleges wherever they are given the opportunity, making it impossible for them to exist unless they kowtow to LGBT demands, no matter how much it would compromise their religious liberty. Robert Oscar Lopez advises Christians to consider retreating to Christian colleges, but as California shows, the gay lobby will not content itself to let that happen.
Fortunately, California isn’t the rest of America. Christian colleges in the South, at least, should be safe for a while. The thing to worry about the most, though, is similar action at a federal level. Can there be any doubt that if President Hillary Clinton thought she could get away with something like this, she would try it? And that a US Supreme Court packed with her justices would approve of it, First Amendment be damned?
Remember the Law of Merited Impossibility: It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it.