Christian Education and The State

By Caleb Keith

If you are in any way associated with Christian higher education, you are probably aware of California Senate Bill 1146 (SB1146). The bill threatens the way religious colleges operate in the state of California. To understand what the bill proposes, I read and re-read it several times last night. The essential function or purpose of SB1146 is to trap and punish religious higher education institutions who currently operate under a title IX discrimination exception. Under the current exemption, religious organizations can “discriminate” in their hiring and admissions practices so long as they are in line with their religious beliefs. For example, a Christian college may require all of its professors to be Christian and reserves the right not to employ non-Christians. Currently, schools which fall under title IX and certain California state exemptions can and often do receive federal and state aid. This funding ranges from student Cal-grants to institutional support. SB1146 seeks to remove state aid for institutions that claim religious exemptions and stop religious schools from “discriminating” in their hiring and admissions policies. SB1146 is a clear attack on religious freedom, but it may be one that was invited in.

SB1146 is as much about religious liberty and free speech as it is about money. Title IX exemptions, as well as various state exemptions, are what allow religious universities to accept federal and state student aid. The problem is, by taking money from the government, schools must meet certain requirements. When schools are in compliance with federal and state policy, their students receive more aid, and a reliably steady type income opens up to the university. Up until now, religious institutions did not have to compromise their values necessarily for their students to be eligible for government scholarships and loans. SB1146 changes the game, demanding that religious institutions forsake their values in exchange for reliable government aid.

The movement to attack religious freedom, particularly with Christianity, is on the rise. SB1146 is proof of that. However, SB1146 is also evidence that Christian schools should have never been taking government aid in the first place. By accepting such aid, Christian universities have made themselves subject to the ebb and flow of the American political landscape. I pray that SB1146 does not pass. However, this bill is only the first of many to come as Christianity and religious freedom continue to be attacked by the State.


2 thoughts on “Christian Education and The State

  1. As I understand the proposed law out there, you can screen theological professors and not make any changes to degrees pertaining to divinity and church work. Am I misunderstanding this? We don’t need any more institutions like Catholic football and basketball universities in this country and we cannot insist that every degree be a “Christian” one. Perhaps, aside from the state money angle, we look at the institution and why we have it. We are not monastic, believing that the purity of one’s faith requires shelter from the world. A nurtured faith is one that lives in and confronts the world. Our schools ought to exist to produce pastors and religious instructors. They ought to exist to serve the Church.

    On the CUI undergrad webpage, we have a chem and math major, art history, communications, and business (as if that should be a degreed discipline in any real academic institution). While, as individual Christians, people at work can ply their vocations in civilized and Christian manners, such academic pursuits do not require a Christian institution or Christian instructors – I don’t know that I would have benefited from having Christian math instructors, or history professors, or lit professors. In fact, not only are such programs outside the mission of the Church, but they are in our church’s institutions in order to fund them. In other words, these are the “college athletes” that sell the “tickets” (tuition and fees) to pay for divinity school. We can do better and, maybe, God is using such bills to show us the truth.

    At some point we need to face the fact that the world hates Christ – always has, always will. That we are promised a cross to bear, not an idyllic life of economic and political freedom. That, perhaps, when we do not perceive our adversaries and are kept fat and happy, we put down our crosses or mistake them for causes. Our freedom is not being erroded, even by such laws. We are as free as we’ve ever been

    For me, the Church will be under attack only when it is muzzled. Not when it is made fun of, mocked, humiliated, made uncomfortable, pushed to the side, not when ministry gets tough and raising our children becomes a challenge. The Word can stand up to that. As we consider the relationship we have with the state and our American obsession with rational rights, let’s think about how far it really has to go and how fare we are willing to go:

    “Suffering, then, is the badge of true discipleship. The disciple is not above his master. Following Christ means passio passiva, suffering because we have to suffer.” Diestrich Bonhoeffer


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