Capitol Alert

California Senate rejects school credit for religious instruction

Then-Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga during session in 2013.
Then-Assemblyman Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga during session in 2013. The Sacramento Bee file

After a lengthy debate, the California Senate on Monday rejected a bill that would have allowed students unlimited time off from school and up to two elective credits toward graduation for private religious and moral instruction.

Senate Bill 1457, which was opposed by the state’s powerful teachers unions, faced strong objections from Democrats who argued that it would undermine the secular foundation of public education and violate the Constitution’s “establishment clause” separating church and state. Several members noted that the state would have no influence over the content of the religious instruction, raising the possibility that students might receive credit for anti-gay or white supremacist teachings.

“It can take on very particular concerns, say even threats, to some of us in California,” said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco.

The bill garnered only 15 votes, primarily from Republicans, short of the 21 it needed to pass the Senate. Supporters said it would provide local communities an opportunity to reintroduce the spiritual education that has been stripped out of public schools, such as for students who may be interested in pursuing a religious profession.

“I respect the spiritual needs of our students,” the bill’s author, Sen. Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, said. “They often see little hope.”

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff