The question seemed innocuous, but Anthony Villarreal understood the threat behind it. “Do you enjoy attending William Jessup University?” the dean asked him.
Villarreal, then a senior, had first come to the conservative Christian university as a freshman on a running scholarship, still struggling with his sexual orientation. He moved off campus with a boyfriend, part of the reason he was called to the dean’s office. The dean ordered him to find a new living arrangement. A month later, Villarreal was expelled.
Seven private colleges and universities in California claim exemptions from state and federal laws that bar discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. These campuses do not have to disclose that they discriminate, and students expelled or employees fired as a result of these policies have no legal recourse.
The schools assert that Senate Bill 1146, which would require them to disclose that intent to discriminate, in fact discriminates against them (“Bill violates religious freedom on campus,” Viewpoints, June 7).
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SB 1146, scheduled to be heard Tuesday by the Assembly Committee on Higher Education, would merely narrow the exemptions available under state law to universities and programs that are training students to be clergy, thus preserving First Amendment religious liberties.
The bill also would require them to disclose their waiver from anti-discrimination laws to the California Student Aid Commission, students, faculty and staff and allow the real victims – expelled students or fired employees – to pursue civil action.
The claims of victimhood by institutions ring hollow against stories like Villarreal’s. He was devastated. Friends and teammates shunned him. He questioned God and his Christian faith. Three years later, he is still rebuilding a network of friends and has yet to finish his studies.
Students and workers expelled or fired because they are LGBT are the real victims here. Private religious colleges and universities should not be allowed to hold themselves above state and federal nondiscrimination laws.
Alice Kessler is legislative director for Equality California and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Alameda serves on Equality California’s board of directors and can be contacted at email@example.com.