Soapbox

Bill violates religious freedom on campus

A William Jessup University student paints rusted screens at a nonprofit’s administration building as part of her community service.
A William Jessup University student paints rusted screens at a nonprofit’s administration building as part of her community service. Sacramento Bee file

Passed by the state Senate and now pending in the Assembly, Senate Bill 1146 is a flawed measure that denies faith-based universities in California the ability to function based on religious beliefs and constitutional principles.

Although this may not be the intention of Sen. Ricardo Lara and his colleagues, the bill is discriminatory and violates the First Amendment and freedom of religion.

The overall assumption of SB 1146 is that it protects gay, lesbian and transgender students against discrimination at private Christian universities. However, this overlooks the devastating impact on constitutional freedoms. Tens of thousands of students in California, many of them first-generation and people of various nationalities, will potentially have their college choice limited.

SB 1146 seeks to narrow a religious exemption in California to only those schools that prepare students for pastoral ministry. This effectively eliminates the religious liberty of all universities that integrate spiritual life with their entire educational experience.

Prayer, chapel services, spiritual groups and public service are all integral parts of the experience on faith-based campuses. In the name of transparency, the bill opens up the pathway for harassment lawsuits.

Students choose to attend faith-based universities because they find a place of safety and freedom. The universities provide residential facilities that are clearly delineated by gender and supported by a caring staff.

We work hard at providing students a diverse, respectful, safe and challenging environment to learn and prepare for life. The passage of SB 1146 would destroy that time-honored foundation and undercut the very fabric of higher education, which advocates for freedom of opinion and discourse.

William Jessup University and other faith-based universities in the state continue to urge reasonable dialogue and implore political and educational leaders to join with all Californians in creating an environment where grace, kindness and civil discourse can coexist with strong sentiment on matters of great importance.

We advocate a “no” vote on SB 1146 and urge the governor not to sign the bill should it make it to his desk.

John Jackson is president of William Jessup University in Rocklin. He can be contacted at development@jessup.edu.

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