California SB 1146 modified to remove harassment of religious colleges, universities

The practices SB 1146 sought to penalize are not illegal: it is not against the law for a faith-based college in California to ask students to model their lives according to a religion’s values of compassion, service, and chastity and to hire faculty based on faith.

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SB 1146, a bill in the California legislature that would have severely penalized religious higher education in the state, is being dramatically rewritten by its sponsor, in response to a growing outpouring of concern to protect minority beliefs. It will now require disclosure but not directly penalize institutions that are out of step with contemporary sexual morality in the state by holding these minority views.

St Mary's CollegeThe bill, championed as supposedly essential to provide anti-discrimination protections to LGBT students attending religious colleges and universities in California, had already been modified numerous times. It had two major features: a disclosure requirement and drastic shrinkage of the exemption in California law that had protected the minority beliefs and practices of religiously and morally conservative higher education institutions.

The disclosure requirement would require California religious colleges and universities to disclose in multiple ways if they hold an exemption to the federal Title IX ban on sex discrimination, which the federal government now interprets as also banning discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity. Disclosure is already common, because the institutions want prospective students, faculty, and staff to understand their respective policies and convictions. The federal Department of Education now maintains a webpage to highlight institutions that have the exemption; SB 1146 would create a counterpart state website, seen by some proponents of the law as a way to ‘shame’ these institutions. But disclosure itself is not a problem.

Pacific-Union-College
Pacific Union College has been named one of the best Christian Colleges in the U.S.
The damaging feature, now removed, was the shrinkage of the exemption. State law has a requirement that any institution that receives state support (either directly or via enrolling students who hold state scholarships) may not discriminate based on, among other characteristics, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religion. Religious liberal arts colleges have been exempt from this requirement, allowing them to maintain their religious and sexual standards. The now-abandoned requirement of SB 1146 would have severely narrowed the exemption to only seminaries and programs dedicated to training religious workers. Precisely what would be forbidden and permitted was not entirely clear, but the major effect was inescapable: religious colleges and universities could maintain strong religious and moral standards—and be excluded from state funding and become off-limits to students holding state scholarships; or they could remain eligible for state support and affordable for lower-income students, but only by abandoning long-standing religious and moral principles.

Chapman-University
Chapman College with numerous campus sites including Walnut Creek California
The day before Sen. Ricardo Lara announced his major change to the bill, a letter was released to the public protesting against it and the damage it would cause. The letter, organized by the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee, pointed out that the bill, if it becomes law, “would severely restrict the ability of religious education institutions to set expectations of belief and conduct that align with the institution’s religious tenets.” While the signers do not necessarily agree on religion nor morality, they joined in opposition to legislation that “puts into principle that majoritarian beliefs are more deserving of legal protection, and that minority viewpoints are deserving of government harassment.” “Some of us disagree with the sexual ethics of orthodox Jews, Christians, and Muslims giving rise to this legislation,” the letter said, “but we are unified in our resistance to the government setting up its own system of orthodoxy.”

Pepperdine-University
Pepperdine-University is one of the leading colleges on the West Coast
SB 1146 was not of concern only to religious higher education in California. If it became law as it had been, it would likely serve as a precedent for California legislators who find it objectionable that other kinds of faith-based organizations, too, often adhere to practices not considered mainstream in the state. And it could well serve as a precedent in other states or at the federal level.

Note that the practices SB 1146 sought to penalize are not illegal: it is not against the law for a faith-based college in California to ask students to model their lives according to a religion’s values of compassion, service, and chastity and to hire faculty based on faith. SB 1146 was a government penalty bill, threatening institutions that follow those legal practices with loss of state support, loss of students with state scholarships, and exposure to lawsuits.

Azusa-Pacific-University
Azuza Pacific University is one of only 311 institutions of higher learning to be awarded the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification for its outstanding commitment to community service and service learning
This is not the way for our society’s deep differences concerning religion and human sexuality to be dealt with. Students and faculty with minority moral values are citizens no less than those with other moral values, and no one requires students and faculty with other moral values to choose a college or university that is based on faith. Civil society—institutions such as independent colleges and K-12 schools, day care centers and adoption services, residential addiction programs and faith-based after-school programs—is the place where diversity can be the rule and should be the rule. Government should respect and support the diverse convictions of its citizens and the organizations they create to reflect their convictions in services offered to the community.

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Religious Freedom Restoration Act protections in peril

On September 10th, a wide range of U.S. religious leaders appealed to President Obama, to uphold the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) protections for faith-based groups working with the federal government.

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On September 10th, a wide range of U.S. religious leaders wrote to President Obama, asking him to maintain his administration’s commitment to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as a protection for faith-based organizations that partner with the federal government. A group of progressive civil rights, religious, and LGBT groups several weeks ago had requested that the President withdraw a Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel, legal ruling that confirmed that use of RFRA.

Below see the letter and signatories championing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

RFRA Letter to President to Maintain OLC Memo 9-10-2015

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I’m Richard Mouw and I’m an alcoholic

Richard Mouw talks about what it means to drop the fig leaves and acknowledge and share what it means to be “naked and unashamed” illustrated in Genesis 2, instead of the “covered” of Genesis 3.

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The Fuller Theological Seminary Youth Institute has released what is fast becoming a viral video in Christian circles this week. In the video, Richard John Mouw, a leading American theologianphilosopher, President of Fuller Theological Seminary from 1993-2013, and still serves as Professor of Faith and Public Life, talks about his alcohol addiction and 40 years of sobriety.

"I'm Dr. Richard Mouw and I'm an alcoholic." from Fuller Youth Institute on Vimeo.

As one of the bravest things a leader can do in a community filled with hypocrites, Richard Mouw talks about what it means to drop the fig leaves and acknowledge and share what it means to be “naked and unashamed” illustrated in Genesis 2, instead of the “covered” of Genesis 3.

One theologian says it this way: “Contrary to what people often think, the key to easing people’s suffering is not in offering some insidious theodicy, but in allowing a place for people to mourn, and to meet others who know what it is to have been burned by that same black sun.  This is not about providing an answer, but rather offering a site where we can speak our suffering.  This may seem a little depressing, but such spaces are really sites of liberation and light.

A church is a group of people who have stopped pretending. How can we create churches where it is safe for our young people, and our adults, and even our leaders, to drop the fig leaves and be naked and unashamed about who we really are and what we’re really like?

Richard Mouw appeals to seminaries to make it a priority to teach church leaders about addiction and new ways to help congregants. This ought to be a priority for practically any people serving discipline, including the medical community, which is actually pretty clueless about addiction given the way it pours buckets of opiates into the hands of doctor shopper junkies.

A friend in Michigan put it this way, “one pastor friend told me he finds much of his “outside the walls” ministry in AA. The notion of naked and not ashamed, well, that one is a long way off for most polite suburban churches I’ve ever been associated with.

Truly.

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Indiana RFRA fact and fiction

Indiana’s RFRA was little different than the federal RFRA, which was adopted nearly unanimously by Congress just over twenty years ago and signed with a flourish by President Bill Clinton.

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On April 2, 2015, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed what many are calling a fix to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that he had signed into law just a week before.  Many had feared the Indiana RFRA would authorize carte blanche LGBT discrimination by religious persons and businesses. Notable business owners, sports figures, and elected officials moved for a boycott of the state.

Yet, the Indiana RFRA was never in intent or practice a license to discriminate against the LGBT community, and the amendment mainly restores the status quo. Yet, the way in which the Indiana RFRA was portrayed in the media and the tenor of the public argumentation around it undermines the vital cause of the preservation of both individual and organizational religious freedom in America.

Federal and state RFRAs

Indiana’s RFRA was little different than the federal RFRA, which was adopted nearly unanimously by Congress just over twenty years ago and signed with a flourish by President Bill Clinton.  The federal RFRA was enacted in response to a 1990 Supreme Court ruling, Employment Division v. Smith. This case reversed three decades of precedent that established the strict scrutiny standard for evaluating religious freedom violations. The federal RFRA simply put into law the judicial balancing test that had existed before the Smith decision.

What does this mean, exactly? The Indiana law, like the federal RFRA, simply gives people who believe that their freedom to follow their religion has been wrongly restricted by a generally applicable government law a chance to make an argument in court.  The court doesn’t give anyone a free pass, but instead employs the “compelling interest” test.  To be excused from the law, the person has to show that his or her religious freedom is substantially burdened by it-and the government has to be unable to persuade the court that the law expresses a compelling government interest that cannot be achieved in a way that is less religiously burdensome.

Four years after passage of the federal RFRA, the Supreme Court ruled that it applies only to federal actions.  In response to this, some twenty states have passed state versions of the federal law.

Do state RFRAs usher in a new era of discrimination?  In fact, religious liberty scholar and same-sex marriage supporter Douglas Laycock says, “RFRA’s aren’t about enshrining discrimination…they’re about preventing discrimination against small, vulnerable religious groups….it’s to protect Muslim women against discrimination for wearing veils, or to ensure that Sikh men can wear turbans and kirpans in the workplace.” The language but not the effect of the Indiana version of RFRA differed somewhat from the federal RFRA.

Authorizing anti-gay discrimination?

Opponents of the Indiana RFRA claimed that the law would authorize conservative Christian wedding planners, and any other business, too, to refuse to serve LGBT persons by claiming that serving them requires violating their religious beliefs.  Yet, RFRA laws only make it possible for someone to ask a court to rule whether his or her religion has been significantly burdened in an illegal way.  The government would then assert that its anti-discrimination laws represent a compelling interest that must apply to everyone.  In the few instances where this kind of case has been taken to any court, the government has always won. As Professor Laycock states: “No one has ever won an exemption from a discrimination law under a RFRA standard, so there’s plenty of precedent saying that if you’re seeking exemption from a discrimination law, you lose.

Why, then, all the concern about discrimination?  Much of Indiana, in fact, has no law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, so if such discrimination becomes a problem, it would not be due to RFRA.  Indianapolis and other large cities in Indiana do ban LGBT discrimination (while protecting religious nonprofits and churches), but no RFRA has ever been held to justify anyone simply acting like a bigot toward anyone else, overriding nondiscrimination laws simply because someone claims a religious reason.

The actual issue was something else.  Same-sex marriage was legalized in Indiana in an October, 2014, court decision, creating a problem for many people of various religious faiths, who have a different conviction than the courts about what marriage really is.  The legislature has not acted to create specific protections for such religious believers.  But RFRA would offer them an opportunity to ask a court to allow them not to assist with same-sex weddings and celebrations.

This is not freedom to mistreat people because of their sexual orientation, but freedom to remain true to a religiously based conception of what marriage is.  And RFRA provides no assured result:  just a chance to make a plea to a judge concerning their religiously motivated objections to participating in the celebration or validation of a same sex marriage. No one is suggesting that a business operation in the realm of public accommodations law would be able to simply deny goods or services to and individual based on their sexual orientation as a status.

Many supporters of same-sex marriage and many who just want to be fair are sure that no one should be able to object to facilitating a same-sex marriage or wedding based on religious convictions. Don’t allow discrimination is the cry, and yet leaving no legal space for fellow citizens with their own deeply rooted convictions is itself harmful to others.  Applying the nondiscrimination command without religious protections results in lifting up a once-heavily stigmatized and marginalized group-the LGBT community-by stigmatizing and marginalizing another-those who support traditional marriage.

Whatever the motives, what many opponents of the Indiana RFRA law have actually done, in the name of bringing justice to one group, is to label as bigots other people whose faiths call them to unpopular beliefs about marriage.

The outrage about the RFRA law, so often uninformed by the facts, was fueled by a presumption that religious people must have the worst intentions toward LGBT people:  why else would they press for a law that allegedly would protect bigotry and intolerance?  In fact, most people of faith in our very religious country know themselves to be called to show real and meaningful love to others in their communities.  Remind yourself of all of the faith-based organizations that serve our diverse population.  So the threats and boycotts revealed a paradox, as a Wall Street Journal editorial put it;  “The paradox is that even as America has become more tolerant of gays, many activists and liberals have become ever-more intolerant of anyone who might hold more traditional cultural or religious views.

What does the “fix” do?

The amendment to the Indiana RFRA that was speeded into law fortunately leaves intact the main effect and intent of RFRAs:  outside of the currently contentious area of LGBT equality, protecting people and organizations of unpopular religious convictions and practices-the Muslim woman wearing a headscarf, the Amish family using a horse and buggy, the Jehovah’s Witness patient seeking an alternative treatment, the church feeding the homeless.  These protections are an expression of American pluralism and of our commitment to protect each other’s conscience and religion.

But the amendment undermines such respect in the case of now-unpopular religious convictions concerning same-sex marriage and human sexuality.  Where in Indiana there are local laws banning discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation or gender identity in offering services or facilities, in housing, employment, or public accommodations, no one and no company can go to court and succeed in winning freedom to follow a contrary religious conviction.

The Protestant, or Catholic, or orthodox Jewish, or Muslim local bakery or events planner, glad to serve LGBT people along with everyone else, cannot be excused from supporting a marriage ceremony or celebration that violates his or her religious convictions about marriage.  Nonprofit religious organizations are exempt from this ban on discrimination, but not any religious businesses.  Priests and rabbis won’t be required to help celebrate same-sex marriages, but a person offering services is required to do so, even when his or her beliefs are just the same as the priest or rabbi.

This is not the finest hour for American pluralism.  Our governments and we citizens need to reconsider how we can live together despite, and with, our deep differences concerning human sexuality.  In a very diverse society that offers everyone multiple choices and that has always encouraged people to live by conviction and not just yield to power or chase after dollars, there must be ways to protect both those who embrace and those who dissent from our society’s changing views on marriage, family, and sex.

RFRA Resources

Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty brochure,“The Religious Freedom Restoration Act:  20 years of protecting our first freedom.”

Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, “Faces of Free Exercise” video.

Conference at the Newseum, Nov. 7, 2013, “Restored or Endangered? The State of Free Exercise of Religion in America.” Three videos of outstanding presentations and discussions.

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Nixing public prayer at Concord City Council illuminates larger issues

The debate over whether there should be public prayer before Concord City Council meetings overlooks the more substantial issues we face.

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As a non-card carrying agnostic of limited faith, it doesn’t especially disturb me when there is public prayer at public events or meetings. When this occurs I piously bow my head showing respect for others who have strong religious convictions that may be lacking in me.

Dan Helix SrNot everyone agrees. Especially in Concord where this controversy reared its ugly head recently when Ex-Mayor and retired US Army General Dan Helix proposed a prayer be given at the start of City Council meetings.

When Helix at first made this suggestion most of the rest of his colleagues including Concord’s Mayor Tim Grayson (a practicing Minister) thought this was a good idea. After all a prayer is given before both Houses of Congress in Washington D.C. and the California State Legislature; although it does not seem to do any good as the Democrats and Republicans fight it out most of the time like a band of heathen infidels.

After listening to the complaints about Helix’s proposal, one would think that those who wanted to give a prayer at a public meeting should not be able to reside within 300 yards of a public school or playground. “They (being the City Council) do not have the right to impose their Christian views on others,” said one opponent. Another critic condemned prayers as “a governmental outreach that threatens our security as free thinking people.”

Most prominent in this group was Contra Costa County Democratic Central Committee member Greg Sanborn who stood before the City Council a couple months ago and said having prayers given at their meetings violated his beliefs as a practicing Buddhist.

Debate over public prayer

Indignant e-mails were posted and phone messages were left which lead to a special meeting presided by Concord City Council members Laura Hoffmeister and Tim Grayson for the public to vent their opinions.

On an evening when most folks were at home watching my beloved Oregon Ducks getting trashed by Ohio State in their bid to win the nations college football championship, a bitter debate was going on down at City Hall.

When the smoke cleared it was determined that it was best not to proceed with having a prayer given prior to the start of Council meetings. The main reason given was that this issue had become a lightning rod for controversy and as City Attorney Mark Coon indicated, costly litigation would likely ensue if the proposal was carried out.

desparate prayerIn killing the idea in the City council members felt too many valuable resources would wasted pursing the prayer thing.

After this “dog and pony show” had run its course, I couldn’t help but feel sad. Not just for one reason but for what the old Anacin Headache pills referred to as a “combination of Ingredients” which includes:

1. Isn’t it unfortunate that people are so intolerant of others that they need to be as vitriolic about such minuscule stuff as saying a harmless prayer before a civic function?

2. Why do people get so caught up in small matters like this and be so unwilling to deal with important issues in local government such as the budget, infrastructure repair, pension reform, law enforcement, parks & recreation etc…

3. How is it that a dedicated public servant such as Dan Helix, who has lived his life both as a civilian and a member of the armed forces, can be allowed to be humiliated by a bunch of self serving punks who would not know what freedom really is even if it bit them in their behinds?

While the General is fond of saying “There are no atheist’s taking enemy fire in foxholes”, this is one battle that he will likely never win in his lifetime.

Obama in prayerPerhaps my words are a bit strong but they are heartfelt. At this juncture I am beginning to feel like the crazy newscaster played by Peter Finch in the 1976 film Network who said I’m mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore.” Does it make me insane if I am tired of ignorant people trying to bully the rest of us with their false conceptions of how society should be operated?

Our Bill of Rights was written by the founders of our country to protect the people from tyranny from those who might want to forcibly take our freedoms away. Instead this concept has been hijacked in many cases by those who have agenda’s that have nothing to do “with justice and liberty, for all”

Examples of this include:

• Self proclaimed judges who sue to remove crosses from all public buildings including cemeteries as it is a symbol which offends them. These sentiments are similar to anti-prayer advocates who desire to tear down the social foundation of the United States. Unfortunately, the once well thought of ACLU has been reduced to defending such doctrinaire losers

• Ambulance chaser attorney’s who pray of businesses with phony lawsuits claiming alleging violation of the American’s with Disabilities Act. They often receive settlements from businesses who can’t afford litigation. Is this what such laws in intended to assist the handicapped were meant for?

• The threat of legal action which creates unnecessary precautions which result in everything from the elimination of cup cake sales at grammar schools to pad locks placed on playgrounds to avoid litigation. Are such policies trying to improve public safety or are they just plain stupidity?

• Those who fret when Islamic Militants who vow to kill most American’s are not read their Miranda rights after they have murdered innocent children.

• Government regulations everywhere that make starting and operating businesses (especially in California) difficult if not impossible to do in many cases. How long will public policy be dictated by a “belt and suspender” mentality that tries to take care of all contingencies no matter how remote.

• Malpractice expenses of doctors which raise medical premiums that have become a cottage industry mostly for the monetary benefit of the legal profession.

This list can go on and on but the bottom line is that our society has gotten so “touchy feely” protecting the rights of so called victims that it has added unneeded expenses for all of us.

old man prayingIn the end such policies increase the cost of living especially for middle class and for low income folks who struggle to get by. Perhaps it is time that the citizens of the United States do some reflective analysis and determine where their priorities should be.

Are we going to be as the founders of our Country envisioned a Democracy in a Republic or a “got yah” world where citizens are afraid to live their lives in fear of being the subject of a legal action?

In the big picture it is likely not terribly important that a prayer be given on any particular occasion at City Hall in Concord. I doubt God is taking notes at City Council Meetings and plans a flood or plague because the anarchists and malcontents got their way in this matter.

What is more important to me is that decisions can be made based on right and wrong rather than perceived threats from those who want to impose their warped sense of reality on the rest of us.

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Charlie Hebdo murder in Paris same as Nazi book burning

Charlie Hebdo murder in Paris similar to Nazi book burning of 1933. Just like good people cowed by Nazi book burning, If we censor ourselves, then the terrorists will have succeeded.

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The recent wave of murder in Paris, reminds me of the words written by the German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine in 1920, “Where men burn books, men ultimately burn people.” These words,

march against terrorism in franceWhat Heine wrote is directly applicable to the murder in Paris of 12 people at a newspaper newspaper office on January 7.

The terrorists, presumably Islamic radicals, burst into the office of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical publication, and murdered writers, editors, and nearby police officials.

The brutal murder in Paris was a warning to all individuals associated with the media to halt the publication of any material deemed offensive to Islam.

If the media choose to censor themselves on the subject of Islam, then the terrorists will have succeeded.

Freedom, like freedom of the press, carries a high price. But that price must be paid or malefactors will have license to destroy all freedoms for all time.

On May 10, 1933, Nazi thugs burned books in Bebel Platz, a section of Berlin. Newsreel film shows Nazis throwing books of different authors, many of them Jewish, into a flaming pyre.

Today, Bebel Platz has a memorial to the Nazi book burning. Built underground with a transparent, ground-level cover, an observer can look down into the memorial and see rows of empty shelves — empty shelves representing the books that were burned in 1933.

nazi book burningNear the memorial is a plaque containing Heine’s words warning of the consequence of book burning. Heine, born Jewish, later converted to Christianity.

Heine’s prophesy was correct. In Nazi Germany, what started out as book burning ultimately turned into the annihilation of Jews and others hated by the Nazis.

America, Great Britain, France, and other allied nations defeated Nazism, thereby preserving freedom. Now is the time for all free media to continue to be robust and vigorous. Murder in Paris notwithstanding, media must take all necessary steps to assure that a free press continues to be an essential pillar of a free society.

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