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Protecting Religious Freedoms at College

Air Date 08/10/2016

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Drs. Barry Corey and Jon Wallace discuss California Senate Bill 1146, which, if passed, would dramatically jeopardize religious freedom at faith-based college campuses. Our guests also discuss other college-related issues restricting religious freedoms.

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Episode Transcript

Opening:

Jim Daly: This is "Focus on the Family." I'm Jim Daly, here with John Fuller and there is something taking place in California right now that I want everyone to know about, because it affects Christian colleges, not only in California, but potentially across the U.S. And that is Senate Bill, California Senate Bill 1146 and it jeopardizes the future of faith-based institutions and their ability to train young people in the faith, along with their vocational training.

You know, I was at the Obergefell Supreme Court decision, John, when the oral arguments were being made and Justice Scalia and Justice Alito made this point very clear, especially with college and universities in America, that in some ways, it's a zero-sum game when we talk about religious liberty and LGBT freedoms and acknowledging sexual orientation. It can be a collision course, because the two we're finding, it's difficult for them to coexist. And colleges and universities are really at the tip of the spear here and we're gonna talk to two special guests today.

John Fuller: We have two college presidents from Southern California and they're on the phone to discuss this issue. Dr. Barry Corey has been the president of Biola University since 2007 and is also the vice chair of the board of directors for the Council for Christian Colleges and University. And Dr. Jon Wallace has been president of Azusa Pacific University since 2000. He's got more than 30 years' experience in higher education.

Body:

Jim: And let me say welcome to both of you here at Focus on the Family.

Guests: Thank you. Thanks, Jim. Good to be on your program, Jim.

Jim: Yep, now we're gonna do this by phone, so we're gonna have to orchestrate a little bit, but Dr. Corey and Dr. Wallace, let's talk about what Senate Bill, California Senate Bill 1146 is about. It restricts religious freedom, at least as it appears today and I know, Barry, you're there in California in Sacramento, talking to the lawmakers today, so that this is as it is today. What's happening?

Dr. Barry Corey: Well, this bill has been percolating for a number of months now, Jim. And the original intent of Senate Bill 1146 here in Sacramento was for institutions of higher learning in the State of California, to be transparent about our policies on sexual orientation, gender identity and to protect students from being discriminated against on sexual orientation and gender identity at California colleges and universities.

Now it was gonna do two things. One, there would be disclosure. That means institutions that claim that religious exemption, they'd be required to have increased public disclosure about their exemptions. And the other is exposure. That means, students could actually claim discrimination against the college because of our religious standards and they would have more protected legal recourse. So, disclosure and exposure are the two implications of this bill. But as Jon Wallace could say, the bill has morphed from its original intent and it's been amended six times. And now it's quite a bit more onerous towards colleges and universities of faith-based traditions here in California. And the supporters I think, believe faith-based colleges use religion as a loophole to discriminate, not understand this like deep and lasting religious convictions that infuse into everything that we do-- our curriculum, our hiring, our standards of conduct, our mission statement.

Jim: Jon, elaborate on that, because what are they afraid of? I mean, this is speaking directly to religious education, schools, universities, colleges. How are they seeing faith discriminate against these students, these LGBT students? Do you have a case of someone being bullied or discriminated against?

Dr. Jon Wallace: Right, so you know, this is a conversation in our pluralistic society, where the Gospel message runs parallel to how we treat our neighbor and how our neighbor feels treated. But it's interesting that we really don't have anything other than some anecdotal stories of acts of discrimination. As a matter of fact, it's just the opposite. The National College Health Survey indicates --this is a survey that is taken by all students at college and universities across the country--faith-based institutions are some of our safest institutions in America. And they are places where students find others who connect with them and who minister to them in their own spiritual and moral growth and development.

So, the challenge her, Jim and honestly, I think you've helped lead many in the faith community in this conversation, the challenge is, how do we keep the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ fresh, while occupying what is increasingly a minority voice in a majority culture that view Christ followers as out of step. And right now in Southern California on Christian college campuses, that this is a very real conversation.

Jim: Dr. Corey, let me ask you this question. Have you seen anything like this? I know you're involved with the Association of Christian Colleges and Universities. Is this new, this kind of threat to religious liberty? Or is this some of the same old, same old? Are you more deeply concerned now than ever before?

Barry: You know, it was a hypothetical question for the years that I've been president of Biola and I know for Jon Wallace, as well. But now it is an existential reality, that this is now pressing upon the missions of our institutions, our ability to fulfill our Christ-centered educational philosophies in ways that we had only thought might happen down the road. Actually, I talked to our board of trustees a number of years ago and I said, "What would happen if a bill like this came down the pike 10 years from now?"

Jim: Huh.

Barry: And it's been two years and it's here. The rate of acceleration since Obergefell has been staggering in its velocity and it's ferocity. And in this bill, we're seeing the early signs of both.

Jim: It is quite amazing. That's what I referred to with Justice Scalia, the late Justice Scalia and Justice Alito. This was exactly what they were concerned about. They even raised those questions during cross examination or oral arguments there at the Supreme Court. They were concerned about religious liberty at religious higher education. And these were some of the examples that they used. And I remember, you don't catch it in the transcript, only if you were in the courtroom listening, but Justice Scalia, when he asked the solicitor general about these religious freedom issues, the solicitor general said, "Well, we don't know what'll happen in higher education. We haven't waded into those waters." Scalia rolled his eyes as if to say, you know exactly where this is going and you're not telling me the truth. That's the facial expression that I saw in the courtroom that day and we're kind of seeing that unfold.

Let me ask you this. When you talk about that theoretical day, which we're now were and experiencing, there's a part of me that believes that there are people who are very aggressive, very negative about faith and they want to undermine what's happening with education. They want to control more of that if not all of that. You're in it. You're seeing it as the president of Biola, would you be that negative? Or do you think that generally they're trying to solve a different problem, that they're not, I don't know, as evil, I guess or as negative as what some may think?

Barry: Well, I mean, there have been decades of disciplined momentum by special interest groups advancing LGBT momentum as a civil rights issue and it's working. And the result of that is, that the story now being told, Jim, is that like lawful religious exemptions are acts of gross discrimination. And consequently, religious organizations are gonna have considerably less privileges and in California are facing considerably more resentment and hostility in the sector of public policy and lawmakers, again, because I don't think our story has been told to them the way in which our story's actually lived out in these faith-based communities. And so, it is disturbing and it is alarming and it is on our doorsteps and it matters how we respond.

Jim: Let me ask you, Barry, in this regard, if I'm outside of the State of California--of course, we're airing across the U.S.--why should I be concerned? Is this just something that Californians are dealing with? It'll never come to me in my state. What warning signal would you want us to know about?

Barry: Well, I think there are three concerns about this bill beyond California, Jim. One is, first of all, this bill is unprecedented in that, to my knowledge, no state has ever passed a bill curtailing the religious rights of a college or university that are basically guaranteed by here in California, the California constitution, but certainly, the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. So, that's concerning.

The second is, that this bill is not the last, but the first one. And other laws could be more burdensome and reach beyond higher education institutions here in California or elsewhere. And thirdly, California is seen by many as a bellwether state and there are other states that might likely follow if this bill is passed as is.

Jim: Jon, let me ask you, in addition to what Barry has said, what are some of the danger signs here in terms of that discrimination? A year from now, two years from now, 10 years from now, what could higher education look like across the United States if those that want to erode religious freedom prevail? What does that campus look like 10 years from now?

Jon: Sure, sure. Well, let me tell you what Barry and I are really concerned about as we think about the future. Think about Los Angeles, the greater LA area, almost 20 million people, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. And here is Azusa and Biola in the greater LA area. Our student bodies are almost 60 percent minority students.

Jim: Hm.

Jon: Ninety percent of our student body need financial aid. Both of us have a significant number of first-generation students from minority populations, who come from the churches of the inner city and of the urban areas of the greater LA area. And honestly, we fill a place of moral, spiritual and academic development that few others fill in that niche that Barry just described, this rich pluralism of higher ed in California.

If the future is that the Christ-centered or faith-based institutions are squeezed out or their ability to allow students to bring their state aid to those institutions, if that's eliminated, then the opportunities for churches who represent minority communities to see their sons and daughters gain a Christian education--an education integrated in faith and learning--that goes away or is significantly eliminated.

We don't want that to be the case. Biola and APU exist to serve the church and to serve greater the good of society, to produce difference makers and world changers.

Jim: Yeah.

Jon: And we think we need to be in that space.

Jim: Well, and I appreciate those demographics. A lot of people might assume that Christian schools are filled with just a lot of young Caucasian children, right, 20-somethings? But as you describe it, it's pluralistic. It's multiracial. It's everything that you're saying and unfortunately, the stereotype might be different, so that right there clarifies some things. What restrictions and I'll throw this to you, Barry, what restrictions would this bill place on colleges with regard to student conduct policies?

Barry: Well, it was mentioned earlier that the bill has been amended time after time. And we don't know what this bill will actually look like when it's finally brought to the assembly floor. But at this point, there would be some significant restrictions. Basically, it would allow a student who felt like anything religious about that institution, whether it's a standard of conduct or it could go so far as something that's being taught in the classroom, if that student feels like it is discriminatory towards him or towards her, then that student has legal recourse.

So, in real life, it would affect the way in which we think about housing our students, the way in which transgendered students would need to be housed in their declared gender. It would affect, you know, possibly ways in which romantic expression policies are in place.

But really the bigger issue for us is, that we do not deny admission to students of same-sex attraction and we don't dismiss students. We have a covenantal community, where we agree to live within the standards that we believe are biblically based. that's the narrative that I think is being misunderstood here in Sacramento, another reason why that we come to Sacramento, to be able to correct the story, is that we are not telling students of same-sex attraction that you can't come here or you can't stay here. That is not at all the case.

And so, in some ways, this bill as is, is a solution looking for a problem. And what we're trying to get across to those who have some good intentions behind dimensions of the bill, is that if a bill is meant to correct a social injustice, then where is the evidence of that social injustice? And if a bill is going to be affecting faith-based colleges and universities--Catholic, Protestant, denominational, non-denominational--here in California, wouldn't it help if you came to our schools and we have conversations about the way in which we do things and the way in which we live out our community? And as Jon said, I mean, we are seen as some of the safest places and that's not the story that's being told oftentimes by special interest groups to policy and lawmakers.

Jim: Well, and that's so upsetting, because when you look at it, the attempt is to change the very core nature of the university. When you look at it, Jon, hiring a faculty and staff, how would SB 1146 impact the hiring of faculty and staff on Christian campuses?

Jon: Right, so thanks for that question, because it is a concern for us and as Barry mentioned, we are shooting at a moving target here. The way we understand the bill continues to change, because the wording continues this change.

Jim: Uh-hm.

Jon: One iteration of the bill left in doubt our ability to hire co-religionists or those who hold to the same faith traditions. And if you think about the ministry of the church, the ministry of faith-based organizations, if you cannot guarantee the freedom to hire like-minded men and women of faith with a similar doctrinal and theological position, then you don't have a missional foundation. You've lost the ability to carry forward that Good News that will change and affect culture and society.

Jim: Ah.

John: Well, you're listening to "Focus on the Family" today with Jim Daly. Our guests are Dr. Barry Corey, president of Biola University and Dr. Jon Wallace, who is president of Azusa Pacific University, both in California. We're discussion a bill in the state legislature of California that would adversely affect students and Jim, it seems that what's happening is, the state is taking up this matter and the leverage point is, if you don't go with our program here if this bill passes, you're not gonna have any funding at all from the State of California for students who are needing help, financial assistance to attend your school.

Jim: Yeah, or it will be restricted significantly in some way and that's why I so appreciate both Dr. Corey in Sacramento today, talking with those lawmakers to try to find a better solution and Dr. Jon Wallace of APU, coming alongside Barry and really trying to find a way to get this accomplished.

Let me ask you, Jon, there are about 16,000 from what I understand, about 16,000 Cal Grant recipients. I did Cal Grant when I was in school in California and these are, you know, students who are going to religious institutions. Talk about the difficulties this specific legislation could cause those students financially. I mean, where would they go if this passes and was implemented next year? Where would they go to school?

Jon: So, here's the irony. This funding belongs to the student to take to the college or university of their choice. And if they were unable to bring that to a place like Biola or Azusa Pacific, there's serious doubt whether the California system could actually absorb all these students. But even to go further, private faith-based institutions raise their own support and funding for their budgets. We graduate students at a significantly higher, almost three times the graduation rate of many state college and universities here in California. The dollar expended for the taxpayer in California is so much better spent at faith-based private in so many ways, including the opportunity for students and parents to exercise choice in choosing a place like Azusa Pacific or Biola. If that choice goes away, I think it damages the fabric of who we are as a culture and a society.

Jim: Barry, let me ask you this while you're there in Sacramento. Do you feel like you're moving the ball with some of these people that haven't seen it quite the true way and what really is happening? Are you able to move them intellectually, emotionally in a better direction?

Barry: You know, on issues like this, you're always gonna have some on the far right and some on the far left that are deaf. They don't want to hear anything that you have to say. But I'm finding here that those who are open-minded, whether they're on the left or the right, are willing to say, you know, is there a better way that we can go about solving a problem or discussing the realities of what's happening at faith-based colleges and universities.

And I've actually been surprisingly delighted even today by folks who are just like, you know what? Let me at least hear what your issues are and what your concerns are. And the fact is, I think commonsense people feel like, if there is a bill that has been introduced and there hasn't been enough discussion with the institutions that would be affected by that bill, they feel like, well, maybe we need to talk some more and maybe there's a better way through this. And if a bill goes through, I mean, it just becomes heavily regulated and costly and sometimes there's litigation after that. And if that doesn't need to happen, that would be a better thing for us.

And Jon and I have been even talking to other groups who are standing with us on this. We've seen the largest African-American Christian organization, Church of God in Christ with a wonderful testimony by Bishop Charles Blake, saying this doesn't seem right. And the largest Hispanic Christian organization with Sam Rodriguez, standing with us and the largest Catholic diocese in the country with Archbishop Jose Gomez here in Los Angeles. And NAE I believe came out with a statement just today or yesterday and there are large orthodox Jewish organizations and there are Islamic organizations that are standing together on this. So, it's far more than an Evangelical issue. It's a fundamental issue about the fabric of the United States and the important role that faith-based organizations play.

And when you know, most of the people that we're talking to here, too, they're not necessarily atheists. They're religious people, but they need to see that their voice is actually being heard and not being alienated. So, I think listening as you know, is such a key important dimension to diplomacy and Jim, you do that so well, listening well, wanting to learn, rather than listening well waiting to speak. And there's a big difference there. And I'm sensing that there are folks that are listening, but we need to listen, as well.

Jim: You know, in that regard, let me throw this one to you, Jon. Some people who maybe aren't of a faith persuasion, they hear this and they say, well, it sounds like the Christian universities are really looking for freedom to discriminate. That's becoming more of the cultural mantra. Talk about that. Explain to us and explain to that person who may be catching this and they don't have a faith in Christ or maybe faith in any direction. Why is this not freedom to discriminate when you talk about core tenets of the faith, running a Christian university in the way God would want you to run it and that is, we believe these core beliefs and that if you participate here, no matter what you struggle with in your nature as sinful creatures, but if you come here, you're striving to become better. Why is that not discrimination?

Jon: Well, first of all, Jim, I so appreciate the message that you've carried forward, the way you have modeled your own fabric of relational context with people in the LGBT community. I think you have set a great example for us. I think the church actually does a pretty good job of explaining itself. We go into detail about what we believe and how we apply those beliefs in our doctrine and our theology. Honestly, Jim, I think that the church at large and faith communities in general, have an opportunity today to go beyond our rhetoric and reach out in relational connection--love and support--for people who don't hold the same position we do. We can argue and talk about what is discrimination and the appearance of a faith-based institution like Biola or APU exercising long-held religious tenets. But what we really want to do is, we want our graduates to be the neighbor you want to live next to.

Jim: Hm.

Jon: We want them to be on school boards and teachers and hospitals. That's where we will advance the kingdom of God. We may lose the argument on what is discrimination. We will win the day when we live out who Jesus Christ is in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. That's where we will win.

Jim: Jon, I so appreciate that. I've said recently, you want to live next to a radical Christian, because when you--

Jon: That's exactly right.

Jim: --when you think of that, I mean, think of the fruit of the Spirit--someone who loves in an unusual way, someone who cares about you, someone who's willing to give you anything you ask of them. That's a radical Christian and it is different than, you know, other faiths and other situations. So, I so appreciate that.

Let me ask you, Barry, as we wrap up right now, what do you want people to do? I'm sure praying for this situation is something we all can do. What else would you recommend we do to help you?

Barry: So, if you're listening today and you live in the State of California, it might be worth your while to contact your state assembly member of state senator and ask that individual to think deeply about the implications of this bill as it relates to the precious commodity we have in California of faith-based colleges and universities--dozens of us that [are] from different traditions that make the state a better place. So, please speak up on behalf of these faith-based colleges and universities.

And certainly, pray and I think this is where we need to demonstrate grace and truth in everything that we do. And stand up for the truth of the Gospel in its radical form as we live out our lives as followers of Jesus. And just be graceful in the ways in which we talk about our faith with others. And I think people will listen if our attitude is right. And if they don't, that's not our responsibility, but they will listen.

Jim: Well, I appreciate that and thank you for the acknowledgment. We're all trying hard. I know you two are also trying very hard to express the fruit of the Spirit and the character of Christ in your conversations, in your dealings there in California. I'm so grateful for that. I think there is a new moment that the church is living in, that we have got to understand the environment and respond accordingly. So, I hope people will respectfully call their California assembly person if they live in that state and express their concern over this bill, SB 1146.

Barry, as you look out and I would say on the more negative aspect, could you see the number of colleges, universities who are Christian based in this country being reduced from a large number to a handful because state and federal funding is taken away? And the donor community, the Christian donor community has to support, you know, a handful of universities that can continue to produce faith-based students and could you see that occurring? Or is that too pessimistic?

Barry: Well, I'm really hopeful that our best days are yet to come. I believe that the world has never needed Christian higher education more than it does right now, although the world has never been so unaware of how great that need is. And I think the mission that we have to educate students in a biblically faithful way is more needed and it's more understood and misunderstood at the same time. So, I am hopeful that through situations like this, there'll be a greater awareness of who we are and the good that we do for a thriving democracy and the influence that we make on the world, that our greatest days are still to come.

Jim: Well, I couldn't think of two greater spokespeople for Christian higher education than yourself and Dr. Jon Wallace. Thanks for being with us today.

Barry: Thank you, Jim.

Jon: Jim, thank you.

Closing:

John: Well, go to www.focusonthefamily.com/radio to get some background on California State Bill 1146 and how it can potentially affect thousands of Christian college students in California and how it might affect you in your state. We'll have a full rundown on the details and issues in your areas, well, at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. Our number if you have any questions, 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459.

Well, on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. This program was provided by Focus on the Family and tomorrow, we'll hear from Lysa TerKeust, who share from her heart about overcoming rejection.

Excerpt:

Mrs. Lysa TerKeurst: When you start feeling like everybody else is "more than" and you are "less than," you start to pull away from deep heartfelt connections with other people. That creates loneliness.

End of Excerpt

John: Lysa TerKeurst recounts her story of finding identity and acceptance in Christ. That's tomorrow on the next "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly.

  • Featured PDF

    Free Resource: "Religious Freedom: Protecting How We Practice Our Faith"

    Focus on the Family

    It's important for Christians to understand our religious freedoms and how to protect them. This free guide can help.

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    The Latest on SB 1146

    Visit the California Family Council's website to get the latest news regarding Senate Bill 1146 as well as background information, talking points, FAQs and more.

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    Connect with the family policy council in your state to see how you can become involved in promoting religious freedom and other family-friendly legislation in your own backyard.

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More Episode Resources

Guest

Barry Corey

View Bio
Dr. Barry Corey has been serving as the president of Biola University since 2007. Prior to that, he was Vice President/Chief Academic Officer and Academic Dean at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Mass. Barry holds a Ph.D. from Boston College in curriculum, instruction and administration, and is author of the book Love Kindness: Discover the Power of a Forgotten Christian Virtue. Barry and his wife, Paula, have three children. 

Guest

Jon Wallace

View Bio
Dr. Jon Wallace is the president of Azusa Pacific University and has more than 30 years of experience in higher education. He holds a Doctor of Business Administration degree and has completed a Postdoctoral Study at Harvard University's Institute for Educational Management. Jon is professionally affiliated with the American Association of Higher Education & Accreditation, the Council of Independent Colleges and the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. He and his wife, Gail, have three grown children and three grandchildren.