Although a threat to religious higher education has eased in California, Assemblies of God leaders aren’t convinced the victory is permanent.
State Sen. Ricardo Lara on Aug. 9 withdrew a proviso in SB 1146 that ultimately might have resulted in the closure of the vast majority of Christian colleges and universities in the state. Ostensibly designed to protect the freedoms of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students, SB 1146 as written before would have supplanted First Amendment religious liberties at Christian schools with LGBT rights instead.
Before being modified, the California Assembly Higher Education Committee had been scheduled to discuss the proposal on Aug. 10, potentially clearing the way for a vote by the full California State Assembly. The California Senate passed the bill earlier this year.
However, a united coalition of 146 religious leaders in an open letter urged California lawmakers to abandon the bill just before Lara amended his proposal.
Those signatories included George O. Wood, general superintendent of the U.S. Assemblies of God. He expects LGBT-rights advocates to regroup. Indeed, Lara suggested he would introduce a new version next year.
“The so-called progressive element of our culture is committed to force persons of faith to accept their view of human sexuality, enforcing their view by governmental regulations,” says Wood, who has written articles about the high stakes involved. “Their efforts will not stop with this one setback. They will continue to try until they either succeed or are defeated.”
Michael J. Beals, president of Vanguard University, an Assemblies of God school in Costa Mesa, California, welcomed the news that the amended bill won’t jeopardize the school’s religious mission and tenets. But he agrees that the triumph is temporary.
“We recognize that further attempts will continue in the coming years,” says Beals, who posted regular updates about the legislation on Vanguard’s website. “Members of the California State Legislature will continue to make this an ongoing issue, with the intent to introduce legislation that will address their concerns in the coming legislative session.”
The former edition of the bill would have threatened California faith-based schools with closure because they no longer would have been eligible for state-financed student aid.
“The previous version of SB 1146, and forthcoming state and national legislative proposals, attempts to exercise secular control over religious practice, and violates the rights of religious freedom, petition, and association, all protected by the United States Constitution,” Beals says. “It denies the ability of faith-based institutions to live out our religious mission and tenets, and would expose schools to court challenges and costly litigation. This breaks with the long tradition of respecting the religious liberties of Americans and the role Christian colleges and universities play in the nation’s pluralistic system of higher education.”
The proposed legislation came a year after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage opened the door to sexual expression on college campuses taking precedence over religious liberty.
Marilyn Abplanalp, president of the Alliance for Assemblies of God Higher Education, notes the clash between shifting sexual morality and biblical standards. For instance, by law AG school administrators can’t inquire into a person’s sexual orientation. Yet all students in AG colleges and universities are required to sign a community covenant/code of behavioral standards, which prohibit cohabitation among students, whether heterosexual or homosexual. AG schools also cite Scripture in forbidding LGBT sexual behavior.
Wood says that the derailing of the odious part of the bill illustrates that the faith community can be influential when working together on issues of morality. He commends California pastors and congregants for rallying to persistently express concerns to legislators. But he warns Christians to be vigilant about future similar lawmaking attempts.
“Undergirding everything is the knowledge that a spiritual battle is going on between right and wrong, and that intercessory prayer is a must as we engage in the struggle for the very soul and well-being of our country,” Wood says.
Image: © Steven Pavlov / http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Senapa, via Wikimedia Commons