Years ago, I was assigned to write a series about the huge growth of Christian colleges in the United States and I got to select the 10 I wanted to profile. To no one’s surprise, four of them were in California because I wanted to go someplace warm.
While enjoying the March sunshine, I also learned there are tons of Christian colleges all over the state, ranging from a Nazarene university on the ocean to a Catholic college in the orange groves east of Santa Barbara. Religious higher education is a huge industry in the Golden State and this has been the case for decades.
Sports and civil rights are important too, as everyone knows. That's why journalists everywhere, including California, did that full-court press the other day following the death of boxer Muhammad Ali. However, the media -- even newsrooms in California -- seem to be ignoring a bill going through the California state legislature that would have a huge impact on dozens of religious colleges in the state and, eventually, the nation as a whole.
There’s lots of great hot buttons in this story: religious freedom, gay students, employee rights, to name a few.
As you would expect, the alternative, "conservative" press is covering Senate Bill 1146 to the hilt. But the Los Angeles Times, which doused Ali's passing with more than a dozen stories in the past week, has not touched it. At least I could find nothing on their web site, not that of the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Weekly or San Diego Union-Tribune.
The state Senate passed a bill Thursday that would make it more difficult for universities to get religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT individuals.
The bill would affect more than 30 higher education institutions in California that currently have religious exemptions to federal or state anti-discrimination laws. It also requires universities receiving religious exemptions to disclose them. Currently, state exemptions are only available through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The author of the bill, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, said LGBT students and staff have been expelled from school or fired from their jobs based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, only to learn that their universities had religious exemptions to discrimination protections after the fact.
He also cited examples of transgender students who couldn’t get access to housing consistent with their gender identity.
However, the Bee does not add that students have a choice whether or not to attend these private schools. In most cases they sign documents in which they affirm the school's stands on doctrinal issues, including those linked to sexual behavior. Here at GetReligion, we’ve brought up again and again the fact that religious schools tend to have something called covenants whereby the students who attend them and those who teach and work at them agree to live according to the doctrines affirmed by that institution.
“These universities have a license to discriminate, and students have absolutely no recourse,” Lara said on the Senate floor.
Well, yes, they do. It’s called transferring to another university. Happens all the time. Private schools, on the left and right, have the ability to define the borders of their voluntary associations.
Republican officials voiced their concerns that the bill, which would limit religious exemptions only to seminaries or religious vocational training schools, infringes upon religious liberty.
And there's the key fact in this story.
There are far more religious liberal arts colleges in California -– including one Muslim one –- than there are seminaries. To get a better description of the arguments here, I turned to a statement from Biola University, a 108-year-old evangelical Protestant school in La Mirada, just east of Los Angeles. Biola is the university pictured with this story. Its statement said in part:
As many as 42 faith-based institutions of higher education in California could be impacted. Some examples of how the bill would impact faith-based institutions include:
Faith-based institutions in California would no longer be able to require a profession of faith of their students.
These institutions would no longer be able to integrate faith throughout the teaching curriculum.
These institutions would no longer be able to require chapel attendance for students, an integral part of the learning experience at faith-based universities.
These institutions would no longer be able to require core units of Bible courses.
Athletic teams would no longer be able to lead faith-based community service programs.
My question: Where is the secular media on this? If the shoe was on the other foot and the state legislature was pondering a bill perceived as anti-gay, don’t you think the state's largest newspapers, not to mention TV or radio, would be all over it?
You can see more discussion on the issue in Rod friend-of-this-blog Dreher’s recent colum, which comes with the headline “Anti-Christian California.” The National Review also covered the controversy, so the troops on both sides of the issue have been notified. But the mushy middle that is the American public that pays attention to what is in the major newspapers and TV outlets across the state, isn’t hearing about this bill at all.
Is it because those assigning the stories hope the bill passes and don't wish to sound an alarm? Or do they think HB 1146 isn't really a story or doesn't have a chance of passing?
If they were looking for good angles, they might question why Lara, who represents a very poor municipality south of LA, has entered the fray. Are the overworked and underpaid inhabitants of Bell Gardens really upset about this? If not, then who was behind this bill?
Reporters might also question non-Christian religious colleges in the state to get their take on the matter. Surely officials with the aforementioned Islamic college and the American Jewish University in Los Angeles might have some good quotes.
The matter has enormous implications for the rest of the country because, as we all know, what goes on in California doesn't stay in California.
If religious colleges lose their heads here -- financially and doctrinally speaking -- they can lose elsewhere too. So where the MSM in this debate? Are they simply unaware of how important religious higher education is in this state or don't they care?