The Forum | Freedom of Association

Intern Blog: Misdirected Demand for Transparency Imperils Religious Liberty in Education

August 4, 2016

Under newly proposed modifications to SB 1146, which have passed the state Senate and are under consideration by the state Assembly, California courts would be able to force religious schools to adopt nondiscrimination regulations that effectively discriminate against their moral foundations.

The proposed amendments erase the exemption that previously allowed religious schools to operate in accordance with their faith-based standards. They would require schools that accept Cal Grant money to compromise their religious principles to accommodate overly broad, government-enforced nondiscrimination regulations.  These schools would be stripped of a wide range of abilities, including the ability to enforce sexual conduct standards in housing and restrooms and the ability to utilize employment practices and student admission policies pursuant to their religious beliefs.

The bill is generous enough to vaguely allow a few lucky religious schools, such as seminaries, to maintain their exemptions, but for most schools- no dice.

This proposal passed the First Amendment without so much as a second glance. The First Amendment of this country protects not only the belief but the exercise of religion, a right that cannot be denied to a man without denying his very nature for “the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature.”

Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California, justifies the bill by saying that prospective students have a right to know the discrimination regulations at a university. Publicizing these regulations will allow “individuals to protect themselves”. This demand for transparency in higher education is honorable, but misdirected.

Religious institutions don’t covertly disguise themselves in secular garb to attract and retain unsuspecting applicants. To do so would be to subvert their mission of clear and faithful teaching. My own college, Thomas Aquinas College, is completely transparent about its Catholic identity. This is immediately evident to anyone who so much as glances at our campus with its prominent mission-style chapel, or who peeks at the first page of our website, which is filled with generous amounts of Catholic terminology.   Any serious applicant must write an essay answering the prompt, “Thomas Aquinas College is a Catholic college, although one need not be a Catholic to attend. How do you understand the relation between the curriculum and the Catholic character of the College?”

The point is this: you’re not getting in without knowing what you’re getting yourself into.

If the California legislature truly wants to pursue transparency and accountability where it is most needed, it should look towards other, more pressing deficiencies. As ACTA has reported, many California colleges and universities, including the UC system, struggle under the burdens of administrative bloat, rising tuition costs, and in many cases, weak core curricula.  Rather than coming under legislative fire, California religious schools such as ACTA “A” schools Thomas Aquinas College and Saint Katherine College should be treated as models—they uphold the principles of transparency and academic rigor that the California legislature purports to support.

Every summer, ACTA is privileged to have several interns conduct research for the What Will They Learn?™ project. This is the second in a series of guest blogs written by our interns, who chose topics relevant to higher education. Margaret is a junior at Thomas Aquinas College. She is a working towards her degree in classical liberal arts. She is also founding president of the St. Thomas More Society, a campus chapter of Intercollegiate Studies Institute.


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

Discover More