The state Senate passed a bill Thursday that would make it more difficult for universities to get religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT individuals.
The bill would affect more than 30 higher education institutions in California that currently have religious exemptions to federal or state anti-discrimination laws.
It also requires universities receiving religious exemptions to disclose them. Currently, state exemptions are only available through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The author of the bill, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, said LGBT students and staff have been expelled from school or fired from their jobs based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, only to learn that their universities had religious exemptions to discrimination protections after the fact.
He also cited examples of transgender students who couldn’t get access to housing consistent with their gender identity.
“These universities have a license to discriminate, and students have absolutely no recourse,” Lara said on the Senate floor.
Republican officials voiced their concerns that the bill, which would limit religious exemptions only to seminaries or religious vocational training schools, infringes upon religious liberty.
“Sometimes you can become what you hate,” said Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, said. “You can become intolerant if you have been the victim of intolerance. I want to be very careful where we are going.”
On a federal level, Title IX currently prohibits sex-based discrimination in educational programs or athletics. Universities can obtain a religious exemption for institutions controlled by religious organizations. At least six universities in California have applied for or received religious Title IX exemptions, including Biola University, Fresno Pacific University, Simpson University, William Jessup University, John Paul the Great Catholic University and LABI College.
The key state-level discrimination law, the Equity in Higher Education Act, has more stringent regulations that prevent schools from discriminating on the basis of disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, nationality, race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.
The Senate bill would allow schools to keep religious curriculum and chapel requirements for students. Failure to comply with the bill’s requirements wouldn’t affect Cal Grant money, but would open up an avenue for students and staff to take legal action.
A similar bill in committee in the Assembly would require schools to adhere to the state’s nondiscrimination requirements in order for students to receive Cal Grant financial aid.