California SB 1146: Religious liberty at stake

openbook

What’s the deal with California Senate Bill 1146? People have said it will shutter religious colleges and that it will reduce religious freedom, but I haven’t found an adequate account from the text of the legislation itself.

I am not a lawyer, but I am in the home stretch of earning a Master’s degree in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Since close reading and ethical reasoning are significant components of my apologetics training, I think I can present a simple case against SB 1146.

Shrinking religious exemptions

First, what does the bill really do? In part, it changes language in the already existing California Education Code. Specifically, it shrinks the religious exemption in one part of the code, Section 66271. Whereas the section currently exempts all religious institutions from antidiscrimination enforcement, the current version of SB 1146 makes some indeterminate part of postsecondary religious instruction non-exempt:

SECTION 1.

Section 66271 of the Education Code is repealed.

66271.

This chapter shall not apply to an educational institution that is controlled by a religious organization if the application would not be consistent with the religious tenets of that organization.

SEC. 2.

Section 66271 is added to the Education Code, to read:

66271.

 (a) This chapter shall apply to a religious educational institution except with respect to prohibitions concerning religion.

 

The struck-out portion is the text of the Education Code to be replaced. So the exemption would go from saying “This chapter shall not apply” to “This chapter shall apply.” This is a significant change that requires a rationale in its own right. If the exemption was okay in previous years, why does it suddenly require a legislative change now? Voters and citizens deserve an answer.

Some previous reporting and advocacy citing the bill noted that instruction for ministry and vocational work would remain exempt, while other programs would not. A seminary handing out Master of Divinity degrees would be exempt as always, but a four-year program awarding degrees in biology or English would not be exempt from “civil remedies,” also known as lawsuits. However, this specific language was struck from the bill in the June 13 amendment. Currently, the scope of the exemption, is, in the words of the Assembly committee analysis, “unclear”:

Committee staff notes, however, that “except with respect to the prohibitions concerning religion” is undefined, and it is unclear whether this exception could result in allowable discrimination against a California protected class if the religious institutions determines that discrimination is consistent with the tenets of the religion.

Alternatively, if the concern is to clearly allow religious teachings, ceremonies and observances of a religious institution, the existing language of the bill could be amended to clearly allow religious ceremonies, teachings and other activities that may be required of students, faculty and staff of religious institutions.

This lack of clarity persists as of my writing this blog entry. If the bill is passed as-is, then students may well be green-lighted by administrators to sue because of teachings, ceremonies and observances that might be deemed discriminatory.

An Unfair Structural Assault on Religious Minorities

The power to sue is the power to deter and coerce, so it should not be held lightly. When small institutions (think of California’s Simpson College) might be shuttered due to the content of their doctrinal beliefs and behavioral standards, then that is effectively diminishing religious liberty. This is particularly true of the right for religious and intellectual minorities to reasonably act and think differently from the majority of society.

An objector might reply that private, religious schools have no right to Cal Grant money, another consideration effected by the bill. In this line of reasoning, religious schools need to comply by the rules that apply to all other schools. However, the withholding of Cal Grant money and a barrage of lawsuits would be an unfair burden suddenly imposed on theologically conservative California religious colleges, which are in a minority position regarding the nature of gender rights, among a host of other issues. This unfairness is structural and asymmetrical. It is structural injustice because it would produce a sweeping, one-time effect. It would not prevent the emergence of new religious schools independent of Cal Grant money. But it could shutter a large portion of existing California religious schools, dramatically changing the higher education landscape within the state. Although there might be a new baby later, the old baby would be thrown with the bath water.

The impact of SB 1146 is asymmetrical because a majority that prefers a certain uniformity in higher education would be imposing its will at the cost of a minority. And that real administrative cost on California religious colleges has been recognized in legislative analysis. To be clear, there are three different financial burdens religious colleges could potentially face: loss of Cal Grant funding for their students, penalties and costs arising from lawsuits, and administrative costs associated with posting exemptions (required by Section 3, addressed further below). Along with this are burdens imposed by being among the dissenting minority on the wrong side of the law.

Freedom of Association at Stake

I believe religious freedom is closely tied to freedom of association. In the case of SB 1146, what is at stake is the freedom to associate with a community that holds its members to self-imposed standards. At its best, this is the freedom to come together to accomplish shared positive goals that could not be achieved otherwise. In a pluralistic society, we try not to second guess, if we can, the goals of other voluntary associations. Undue concern for what goes on within other freely-formed groups results in repression, the very thing that progressives profess to oppose. If California were to impinge on individuals’ ability to freely associate, this would diminish an essential liberty that has served Americans well for 230 years.

Suspicion or Good Will?

Biola president Barry Corey said it well when he declared that Biola does not support bullying, and intends its space to be welcoming. The question with SB 1146 is whether California will assume religious colleges to be acting in good faith, as good will participants contributing to the common good, or whether it will regard religious colleges as inherently suspect.

Unfortunately, Section 3 of SB 1146 suggests the later, that religious schools should bear the burden of being suspect. This portion of the bill requires schools that receive exemptions from antidiscrimination measures to post this fact prominently on the campus and in correspondence with potential students. Progressives are rightly concerned with the stigmatization, shunning, and shaming of minorities. But does this apply two ways? In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne is condemned to wear a scarlet letter ‘A’ on her blouse to remind her community members that she was found guilty of the sin of adultery. What the Section 3 notifications amount to is a scarlet ‘D’, intended to remind students, parents, and the rest of the world that certain religious schools are to be regarded suspiciously as discriminators. If antidiscrimination has anything to do with ending stigmatization, shunning, and shame, then Section 3 makes SB 1146’s purported goal of antidiscrimination internally inconsistent.

It’s an irony that some progressive activists might end up using SB 1146 as a puritanical tool of oppressing dissent and enforcing conformity. But rather than assuming the worst of each other, citizens in a pluralistic, democratic society must extend the assumption of good will as much as reason would allow. It takes two to tango. If one side–particularly the democratic majority–remains inflexible, then we will return to the historical state of confessionalism. In 16th and 17th century Europe, this was a time when those subjects who could not affirm their rulers’ religious creed were forced into exile. This is the antithesis of a liberal society. In Europe, the divide was between Protestants and Catholics. Today, the divide is between progressive ideological activists and those who dissent from their controversial orthodoxies. Biola and other California religious institutions seem to be responding with patience, charity, and civility in the face of what could otherwise be interpreted as divisive political action. If there is any hope for fairness and justice, it will not be fulfilled in legislating dissenting communities out of existence, but by heeding the admonition, “Come, let us reason together.”

Photo credit: janetvincent via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

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(In)tolerance at Mozilla

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

-The Friends of Voltaire (1906)

Tolerance in the face of disagreement, even incredibly odious disagreement, has been a hallmark of American civil discourse. The idea as we know it today crystallized with Voltaire, although Jacques Barzun informs us that it was the English Puritans who first gave it to us.

Today, it seems tolerance is gone. I was watching this Red Eye clip just yesterday, where Reason‘s chief editor Nick Gillespie was marveling that, in America’s post-scarcity economy, consumers can afford to make political statements by boycott. This in response to news that dating website OK Cupid blocked Mozilla Firefox users from its service because Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich gave a $1,000 political donation to California’s Proposition 8. That was the overturned state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

Gillespie was right; boycotts are a luxury of those fortunate enough to be able to choose how to spend their money and time. They are a possible solution to the first-world problem of having to live with someone who makes you uncomfortable by virtue of their seeing the world differently from you. Some progressives seem to be very good at wielding this blunt, destructive, stigmatizing tool of social ostracization and economic isolation. Recall the Oregon bakers whose painstakingly-built business was shuttered by boycott and intimidation in 2013.

On Thursday, after just a few days of pressure, Mr. Eich stepped down because some of his employees simply did not like how he spent his own money. They did not like his political speech, so they cut short his career. He happened to be a Mozilla co-founder. Oh, and he only invented javascript. That kind of tearing down of someone who makes things for a living, transforms the way we live our lives, but just happens to see things differently from you, that’s what I call progress.

It would seem an apology is in order to Mr. Eich, but as it turns out, the apology went the other way around. The Wall Street Journal reports:

In a blog post Thursday, Mozilla’s executive chairwoman, Mitchell Baker, apologized for Mr. Eich’s appointment, writing, “We have employees with a wide diversity of views. Our culture of openness extends to encouraging staff and community to share their beliefs and opinions in public…But this time we failed to listen, to engage, and to be guided by our community.”

Amazing. Baker’s apology was not for Mozilla’s being intolerant of Eich’s views, but for his alleged intolerance to the company. On what evidence? Now that he’s gone, everyone can feel safe “to share their beliefs and opinions in public.” Orwellian. Chilling.

Maybe Mr. Eich was hateful. I don’t know. How does one determine that? According to the Journal, he made conciliatory moves. But even if he were a hateful, smoldering homophobic imp, I will have to make the point as I have a few times before by asking, why think that it is inherently immoral, blameworthy, or hateful for government to restrict the kinds of relationships it recognizes?

 

DOMA decision: judge not, unless you’re liberal

(Sam Howzit/Foter/CC BY)

Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision on Windsor v US is remarkable on a number of levels.  It’s an exceedingly rare instance where liberals celebrate an old, rich white person getting huge tax break.  In this case, it is to the tune of $363,053.  I wonder what principled reason leads the Left to applaud rather than object to the outcome.

In writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy supplies that principled reason.  It seems on his view that President Bill Clinton and a sweeping majority of the 104th Congress were bigots intent on inflicting “injury and indignity” on gay couples, a “politically unpopular group.”  Does this sound a bit . . . judgmental?  It’s hard to believe that gays and lesbians are “unpopular” in 2013, a mere 17 years after the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) came into effect.  Flipping on any random television sitcom, reality show, or talk show indicates the contrary.

So what has changed in that brief span of time in America, in the hearts of Harry Reid, Joe Biden, and Chuck Schumer, high-profile Democrats who voted for DOMA but now celebrate its demise?  Perhaps there was something akin to President Obama’s “evolution.”  A subjective, personal premise for legislation.

This would explain why, when politicians and media throw about “equality” or “discrimination” in the public square, candor and lucidity seem to be in short supply.  President Obama merely asserts that DOMA was “discrimination enshrined in law.”  What is the condition where discrimination obtains?  I didn’t see Justice Kennedy supply it.  If I were to guess, that criteria likely hinges on what the Critical Race Theory professor at Harvard Law had for lunch.

The SCOTUS Windsor ruling is anything but assuring for the integrity of our democratic republic. Especially in light of growing irresponsibility in the Executive.  California Governor Schwarzenegger shirked his duty to defend Proposition 8 without consequence.  Likewise, President Obama and Eric Holder were rather . . . discriminating when it came to whether or not the Justice Department would defend DOMA in court.  This is not the rule of law.  What happened to impartiality and professionalism, let alone charity in disagreement?

There’s a rational basis for government to recognize and enforce marriage as a commitment between a man and a woman.  As a class, heterosexual relationships tend to produce children, and those children need to be protected against the parents’ inclination to terminate that commitment.  To make marriage an issue of equal protection of benefits undercuts that indispensable reality.  Inheritance issues, visitation rights, and so on–there’s an app for that.  It’s called civil unions.

Neither should government dole out marriage as a way to validate feelings or affirm dignity.  Sure, there were real dignity issues in the Jim Crow era.  That was half a century ago.

Sometimes people complain about “legislating morality.”  Never mind the incoherence of that critique; what are laws supposed to be if not moral?  But I get the point; some legislative pushes come off as offensive, judgmental, and needlessly intrusive.  Here we have not just “legislating morality,” but legislating from the bench.

When it comes to making distinctions, it seems we have a one-way street, a double standard in effect today.  Judge not, unless you’re liberal.

Queasy conquistadors

On Wednesday, news broke that a suspect was arrested for plotting to blow up the Federal Reserve in New York.  At first, some political junkies (or maybe just Brian Ross) were asking themselves, was it possibly a deranged gold standard libertarian?  It didn’t take long to learn it was a 20 year old Muslim man who had come to study from Bangladesh.  He identified himself with Al Qaeda.

The way that media and the cultural establishment treat violent Islamic jihad resembles some sort of awkward charades, or maybe musical chairs.  Let it be said here not all Muslims are violent or threatening.  Neither are all acts of jihad, if the term is to be properly understood.  But the relationship between Islam, jihad, and terrorism is another front of America’s culture war that needs work.

It would be nice if our thought leaders–media, politicians, academics–could talk openly about a very real force at war with us, without secretly fearing they’ll have caused some back woods deer hunter to go out and commit a hate crime.  Laura Logan, the CBS reporter who was sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square last year, and has now called attention to Al Qaeda’s significant Afghan resurgence, seems to be one exemplar uncowed by political correctness.

But for the most part, what we are getting from the influential echelons amounts to denial.  The consequence of a life trajectory totally sheltered by this denial is clear: we get a president and an administration that neglects major world threats, seeing places as friendlier than they really are.  Perhaps it’s quick to judge, but this denial seems a direct contributor to the loss of a uniquely skilled ambassador and three dedicated American personnel at Benghazi.

We don’t have to commit ourselves against a sovereign nation, or a people, but we do need to combat the idea that mobilizes terrorists.  This is something the liberal, progressive worldview–which informs so deeply the Obama administration–can’t do.  The cultural impulses of tolerance and relativism translate into a desire to not offend.  Recall the $70,000 the State Department spent in Pakistan denouncing The Innocence of Muslims, or the timely optics of authorities arresting the film’s creator for a less-than-critical parole offense.  A misdirected attitude of insecurity undermines our current efforts to confront violent Islamism.

While we have the cultural and political Left at the reigns, we have the worst of both worlds.  We’re perceived as cruel imperialists and conquerors, but in reality we lack the benefit of fire in the belly.  Rather, we’re queasy and uncertain.

As I heard the news of the man who plotted to bomb the Fed, I thought of an inverse analogy.  Five centuries ago, technologically and organizationally superior European explorers set forth, confounding and conquering populations they came across.  Now, many see much of the Islamic world as stuck in an earlier time.  But it is they who confound the advanced West today.  Effete and paralyzed by existential anxiety, the descendants of the conquistadors have become queasy, unable to seriously countenance the brutality that has reliably characterized human existence.

Folks like Mark Steyn make gobs of money selling this gloomy narrative.  Nothing wrong with that.  Yet, I can’t help but want to turn the page on this tragic story.  It happens that there is a leader who’s ready to move forward with a full-throated restoration of our moral authority.  He wrote a book, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness.  The timing couldn’t be better; you can vote him president on November 6.

Liberal outrage boosts carbon emissions

At the end of my workday today, I proceeded to Alta Arden Chick-Fil-A.  As with other locations throughout the country, there was a considerable line at the drive thru.  Many have posted their pictures and made reports.  Instead of a picture, I’m offering here a sketch I took toward the beginning of my hour long wait.

What was the atmosphere like?  Quite congenial from what I could tell.  All sorts of people and cute little kids running around under their parents’ watchful eye.  If there were any bigots there, you wouldn’t know.  Hate levels were negligible, reading at a low 0.029 pico-Sharptons.

For all their outrage, liberals have only managed to launch a thousand drive thru queues.  With all the exhaust spewing from the attendant trucks and SUVs, Leftist indignation correlates to a rise in carbon emissions.  Coincidentally, National Review’s lead essay today deals in part with progressives’ disdain for cars.

Once I got my order, I sped back home.  I had the spicy chicken sandwich with the waffle fries, and they didn’t disappoint.  The first time I had Chick-Fil-A was when I was staying with family in the South–as in southern California.  Contrary to how the media reports it, the Chick-Fil-A empire reaches far past the Mason-Dixon line.  It’s firmly established in my blue state, as San Francisco mayor Ed Lee certainly knows.  Forty miles is close enough for him.  Fortunately for my taste buds, I am beyond that radius.  The City by the Bay still makes for a nice day trip though.

Surely some nonpartisans are scratching their heads today at the latest culture war battle.  What’s the big deal with this Chick-Fil-A appreciation day?  Some say it’s about affirming Biblical truth, and some say it’s about freedom of speech.  These are both right and good, but the question of tolerance is the most pivotal one.

To remain a free, fair, and open society, we need to recover the original meaning of tolerance.  That means respecting the person who disagrees with your views.  This does not happen when traditional marriage defenders are dismissed out of hand as bigots and haters.  As with many things that touch on God, judgment, personal choice, and equality, too much of the conversation is controlled by the gut and not by a clear and open mind.

Today’s massive Chick-Fil-A turnout is not a mere spectacle, but a stand firmly taken.  A stand not in the name of blind faith or bitter clinging, but in the hope of a more charitable discourse.  Just maybe, we’re turning a cultural corner.

Campus thought police

Hate crimes have received a bit of press lately, with the news supernova over Trayvon Martin as well as the recent conviction of Dharun Ravi in the Tyler Clementi case.  Much ink has been spilled on these things already.  I will spare you but to say that hoodies are not a good symbol to rally around, and that Mr. Ravi’s disproportionately harsh sentence tells us just how powerful the politically-driven liberal witch hunt for bullies is.

Now only occasionally do hate and intolerance receive as much attention in the public square as they do on university campuses.  The past couple of years there has been great hand-wringing across the University of California system.  President Yudof issued this open letter in March.  The academic establishment typically shies away from moral and absolutist language, but its use in this letter betrays the community’s critical-thinking blind spot.  In response to one act of vandalism, the UC President sounds more like a back-bending diplomat when he applauds the “rapid and vigorous condemnation of this cowardly act.”  This kind of language is reserved for when some ultra-important party has been ticked off and must be mollified.

That party is a large one, animated in its adherence to the orthodoxy of victimhood.  It is driven by the oppressor-oppressed paradigm, and it continuously demands urgent, corrective action.  As a modern day Sisyphus, the university president or chancellor must repeatedly expend campus time and resources condemning every little act of vandalism and thoughtless transgression.  Furthermore, their chains require them to assure that such crimes will be expunged completely from the grounds of the academy.  But there will always be insensitive yokels ready to wreak havoc, if for no other reason than to elicit a response from the ultra-sensitive communities on campus.

A couple of news items from last fall help us see a fuller picture of the campus orthodoxy that dictates these responses.  After a student column on some regrettable phenomenon called “jungle fever,” The California Aggie editorial board informed its readership that its staff were to undergo “diversity training.”  This prescription can’t help but remind me of Communist-era reeducation camps.  And after some abortion opponents surreptitiously distributed the “180” video on campus, the campus Women’s Resource Center not only condemned the act but felt compelled to offer support to “students identifying as Jewish, Queer, People of Color, Women, Transgender, Romani, and folks with disabilities” who were offended or else menaced by a sense of “erasure.”

There are limits to sensitivity on campus and in the public square.  Authority figures always take it upon themselves to reassure the public through their actions, but these grandiose declarations end up diminishing the sense of agency and empowerment that ought to be cultivated in the individuals of the community.  There is too much coddling of victims and not enough sense of perspective.  If we are to preserve the academy as an arena of critical thought, and if it is to deliver us well-rounded, capable citizens for society, we must shake off the unhealthy campus obsession over hate and intolerance.

Moral equivalence, tolerance, reciprocity

When specifics are at stake, when values are weighed, and when judgments must be passed, it seems American liberals cannot help but default to moral equivalence.

Take for example the post-9/11 semantic struggle for the word “terrorism.”  In an earlier era, terrorism clearly meant something like a plane hijacking or an embassy bombing; it was bad because it forced a government into an odious moral dilemma of either sacrificing innocents or legitimating violence as a means for change.  But with the War on Terror, many opponents were either too angry or wearied by the daily use of the “T” word to maintain the important distinctions of who, how, and why that makes terrorism so bad.  In their new parlance, “terrorist” became an epithet befitting the unrealistic black-and-white view that any exercise of force or the mere holding of power was bad.  Common was the claim that Americans were terrorists because they dropped bombs from planes or their ancestors once sniped British officers from treetops.  This dumbing down of the “T” word culminated in a bumper sticker featuring a quaint photo of four Native Americans with rifles at the ready.  Its caption: “Homeland Security–fighting terrorism since 1492.”  And so in a thumbnail sketch, the whole of our glorious and equitable American civilization was dismissed as no different from a band of murderous Islamo-supremacist thugs.

Not only can moral equivalence single-handedly dismiss a civilization’s rich heritage, its also a cover for those who don’t want to think too hard in comparing religions or considering their respective relation to truth.  In the midst of August’s “Ground Zero mosque” media madness, a telling exchange between Charlie Rose and Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria demonstrated a shameful intellectual weakness that pervades mainstream journalism.  To them, the shared evil between Christendom and Islam was not violence or the threat of coercive force, but the idea of proselytization itself;  that is, the desire to share, spread, or submit for discussion that one idea or belief is possibly better than another.  It is anathema to their profession, which upholds objectivity and neutrality.  But in an existential twist, their reports in turn must be colored by a tolerance that is itself intolerant of exclusive truth claims.  All this is surely an overreaction to a past age when fears of patriarchy, conformity, and stigmatization of minorities were major concerns.  But if we can’t get beyond the hang up of stigmatization and the impulse of tolerance that begets moral equivalence, then we have no hope of solving our problems.

Oddly enough, the inability of journalists to admit their true feelings or core motivations gives them something in common with orthodox Islam.  They both are deficient in reciprocity.  While the vested partisans of Christendom have demonstrated a sustained capacity for self-criticism, reflection, dialog, and reform, no one under the sun of political correctness can bear to admit that orthodox Islam today is in want of those things.  When a religion’s unmistakable prescription for apostasy is death, and when a civilization propagates its ideas but cannot reciprocate openness to allow the honest consideration of others, there is a problem.  Any institution or social phenomena, whether it be a religion, a government, or the culture of professional journalism, cannot long survive without shedding illiberal bulwarks against the unfettered exchange of ideas.  Totalitarian states make no qualms about shutting up debate, but when American liberals run up against the hard facts of life, they all too often dull distinctions by means of moral equivalence.

To be sure, all individuals must be respected and judged on their own merits, not on their cultural background.  And while religions and cultural norms should be given due diligence, it does not hold that in the end they are all the same.

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