California Senate Bill 1146 (SB 1146) created an earthquake of controversy.
The bitter disputes sparked by Indiana’s version of the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” and the controversies that provoked the act, are the latest episode in our ongoing culture war. Its sources are twofold: the moral clash between what we call the “Left” and the “Right,” and the increasing scope of government.
Observing from afar the clamor over Indiana’s new religious freedom law, we in higher education are especially attuned to how that state’s colleges and universities have responded.
First, some background. The Indiana law differs in modest, but I think, important and helpful ways from its federal counterpart, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. RFRA, which was passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority, has since been replicated by a number of states—including, by the way, Illinois, with then-State Senator Barack Obama joining all his colleagues in favor in 1998.
There has been plenty of commentary about why so many people have reacted so negatively, but let’s zero in on where Indiana’s college and universities, mostly through statements by their presidents, have come down.
Have you heard the one about the Christian florist who declined to sell flowers for a gay wedding? She got sued by the Washington AG and by the ACLU. In a 60-page opinion, a state judge ruled against her. The florist is appealing. Also, she has since stopped selling flowers for any kind of wedding, lest “discrimination” break out yet again.
Have you heard the one about the young lady who showed up for a job interview with Abercrombie & Fitch wearing a black headscarf? You will: her fate is at issue in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch, pending before the Supreme Court. Abercrombie’s strict regulations of its floor “models’” attire and appearance include a prohibition against headgear.
The recent decision by the California State University system to enforce its “all comers” policy against religious groups on its 23 campuses is the latest in a disturbing and (at least in some cases) unprincipled effort to rid colleges and universities of conservative religious groups with creedal faith statements.
The Supreme Court bears much of the blame. In its 2010 decision in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Court unwisely upheld the nondiscrimination policy of the Hastings College of the Law, a public law school in San Francisco. Its “all comers” policy is that student groups must admit as members and even leaders any student who wants to participate. The Republican club must accept Democrats. The pro-choice club must accept pro-lifers. The Jewish club must accept Christians.