This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

California bill could eliminate FPU religious exemption

Fresno Pacific University President Richard Kriegbaum has called on alumni and supporters to contact their state political representatives in support of FPU’s religious freedom.

In late May, the California Senate passed a bill that would shrink the number of colleges that qualify for religious exemptions by limiting them to institutions that train ministers or theology teachers. A bill has not cleared the Assembly lower chamber.

Kriegbaum wrote in a June 8 blog post that under Senate Bill 1146, religious freedom would only apply to FPU’s seminary and undergraduate programs such as Bible and Christian ministry. He asked supporters to express their concerns about the bill.

“The California legislature is concerned that religious institutions discriminate against LGBT students and do not provide a safe place for them,” he wrote. “We strive to protect all students, regardless of sexual orientation. . . . However, limiting the religious freedoms of Christian and other religious institutions is not the way to accomplish this goal.”

The bill would all require those institutions that receive religious exemptions to publicize the fact to prospective students.

“Public clarity about our distinctive character and expectations is not the problem,” Kriegbaum wrote. “The problem is the law’s very narrow definition of the religious freedom exemption.”

Kriegbaum cited FPU’s “freedom to respond to matters of gender identity” when he made a federal request for a religious exemption to discrimination law last year. Similar concerns were expressed by fellow Mennonite Brethren institution Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kan.

Proponents of the bill say state and federal tax money finds its way to both public and private colleges and universities, and those public funds should not support discrimination against LGBT people. A bill that would withhold Cal Grant funding eligibility for colleges that violate nondiscrimination laws failed to move out of committee.

According to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, FPU received $4 million in federal funds in the 2016 fiscal year. That is the second-largest amount among California colleges that have sought religious exemptions to federal anti-discrimination laws.

If California were to remove FPU’s religious exemption, the institution would have to either change policies or face potential discrimination lawsuits in regard to matters such as admission, recruitment, financial aid, marital status, employment and athletics.

“We pray, learn and live to serve the Lord from the basketball court to the biology laboratory,” Kriegbaum wrote. “True evangelical faith pervades all of life, motivating and guiding behavior.”

Tim Huber

Tim Huber is associate editor at Anabaptist World. He worked at Mennonite World Review since 2011. A graduate of Tabor College, Read More

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