Sun, May

CA Senator Lara: Going after Schools that Use Religion to Discriminate Against Gays


THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--As “religious freedom” (or a pass to discriminate under the guise of religious convictions) continues to be a hot-button issue on the national stage, Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) is eliminating provisions from a California senate bill that would have made it more challenging for faith-based institutions to receive Title IX exemptions. 

“The goal for me has always been to shed the light on the appalling and unacceptable discrimination against LGBT students at these private religious institutions throughout California,” Lara told the Los Angeles Times

The bill as drafted faced strong opposition from religious colleges and some schools joined to create the Association of Faith Based Institutions and the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities to lobby against its passage. MassResistance and other protest groups also encouraged people to petition their local assembly members. 

Religious institutions had objected to the initial bill because many believed the provisions would leave them vulnerable to lawsuits and would infringe upon their right to follow their religious values. Lara has amended the bill to remove restrictions, which would allow colleges to maintain their faith-based standards. The institutions would be required to notify the public of their exemption status and provide information about disciplinary actions based on their sexual orientation. 

The bill as originally drafted would have placed obstacles on schools that include sexual orientation in decisions about admission, accommodation, or housing. Colleges would need to advertise their Title IX exempt status. When religious institutions claimed the bill would force them to act against their standards of conduct and would also leave them open to lawsuits, Lara revisited the bill. 

The amended bill, which now has support of many California colleges, has been approved in the state Senate and will be heard by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Thursday. 

Accommodating institutions and businesses that would practice religious-sanctioned discrimination, typically against LGBT and women, is a slippery slope. As the American Civil Liberties Union position states, “While the situations may differ, one thing remains the same; religion is being used as an excuse to discriminate against and harm others.” 

During the sixties, institutions opposed integration laws, stating their religious beliefs promoted separation of races. Colleges and universities affiliated with religious institutions would refuse to admit students in interracial relationships. 

Freedom of religion means protecting one’s right to practice religion without providing the right to discriminate against and impose beliefs on others who do not share those beliefs. While this bill does place some limits on religious colleges, it allows discriminatory practices under the guise of religion. Balancing the rights of institutions to operate under their religious moral code with protecting others from discriminatory practices is a slippery slope.


(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.)


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