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California Religious Leaders Stand Up, Dem Lawmaker Backs Down on Campus LGBT Rights

President Donald Trump after he was sworn in by Justice John Roberts during the Presidential Inauguration ceremony for Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States held at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC on January 20, 2017. (Photo by Anthony Behar) (Sipa via AP Images)

California Sen. Ricardo Lara (D) gave up some key concessions when faced with intense opposition to his legislation that would have allowed LGBT students and staff who felt they were the victims of campus discrimination to sue private religious universities.

But Lara also said he was not giving up the fight to better protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people who attend class or work at religiously affiliated schools in California.

“It’s a mediated settlement,” John Jackson, president of William Jessup University, told the Long Beach Press-Telegram. “The senator got what he wanted in terms of protecting LGBT students and religious colleges got what we wanted: The ability to continue to practice our religious conviction and provide a safe and welcoming environment for our students.”

Lara gave up a lot from his original proposal.

In addition to removing a provision that allowed students and staff to sue the schools if they felt they were the victims of LGBT discrimination, Lara erased the part of SB 1146 that would have done away with a policy that exempted those schools from state anti-discrimination laws in the interest of protecting their religious liberty.

SB 1146 would still force the private schools to disclose exemptions from federal Title IX anti-discrimination rules. The institutions would also have to file a report if a student was expelled for violating the school’s moral code of conduct.

The compromise version of the bill was approved by the California Assembly Appropriations Committee on Aug. 11, which means it could be voted on by the end of August.

Leaders of California and national religious organizations rose up in protest against Lara’s original version of SB 1146, calling it a violation of their schools’ religious liberties.

“California is becoming a very hostile place for Catholic education,” warned Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society.

Reilly was one of more than 140 higher-education, political and religious leaders in California who issued a statement Aug. 9 opposing Lara’s bill.

Reilly said it threatened the religious freedom of Catholic and other faith-based colleges in California.

“Not only does this vindictive bill harm Catholic colleges,” Reilly said, “but if it becomes a precedent for similar laws around the country, it will cause widespread harm to Catholic families who deserve the freedom to choose faithful Catholic education.”

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said his problem with the original version of SB 1146 involved more than religious liberty.

He warned the legislation struck at the heart of the Hispanic community.

“Hispanics form communities of faith that have long valued faith-based education, and this bill could – in effect – eliminate religious education in California,” Rodriquez said. “It would discriminate against minority communities in California.”

However, some of the loudest voices against SB 1146 said they were generally pleased with the new, compromise proposal.

Kristen Soares, president of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities, a group of 32 schools that lobbied against Lara’s bill, told the Los Angeles Times the new proposal is “a positive development.”

Kurt Krueger, president of Concordia University in Irvine, said Lara’s original proposal would “significantly challenge” the ability of all Christian colleges and universities to “continue offering Christ-centered education” because of its employment provisions.

“It appears that we have won a battle in the war to defend religious freedom, but we anticipate that many more battles remain,” Krueger said after Lara announced the plan to drop the provisions of SB 1146 that religious groups found most distasteful.

Lara stressed his decision to go with an amended version of his original legislation should not be seen as a defeat.

“As a gay Catholic man, nobody can dictate how I worship or practice my religion,” Lara said in a statement on his Facebook page. “These provisions represent critical first steps in the ongoing efforts to protect students from discrimination for living their truths or loving openly.”

Lara said, if nothing else, the debate had “shed light on the appalling discriminatory practices” endured by LGBT students and staff at religious schools and the requirement that schools report expulsions because of violations of their morality codes would allow him to document future LGBT discrimination.

“The goal for me has always been to shed the light on the appalling and unacceptable discrimination against LGBT students at these private religious institutions throughout California,” Lara said. “No university should have a license to discriminate, especially those receiving state funds.”

He also said a new, stricter version of the legislation could be introduced in the 2017-2018 legislative session.

As confirmation this agreement was not a final solution, Kurt Krueger assured those who had supported Concordia University’s fight against Lara’s proposal, “We will continue to actively oppose challenges to the free exercise of our religious beliefs.”