Faith-Based Institutions Under a Secular Government

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During the 2015-16 California state legislative year that ends on August 31, two bills in particular attracted strong national as well as state-wide attention. One bill was AB 1888, which sought to prevent California students from using their Cal Grant financial aid to attend faith-based institutions like Fresno Pacific University. Fortunately for our students, that bill never came to a vote by the full Assembly. It would have prevented about 15,000 low-income but academically well qualified, mostly ethnic minority undergraduate students from choosing any of the subject California faith-based institutions.

For Fresno Pacific AB 1888 would have effectively denied 700 students access to our distinctive education, the kind of education that enables over 50 percent of ethnic-minority undergraduate students to graduate in four years. This is the highest success rate by far in the Central California region for such students.

A second bill, SB 1146, was considered and approved by the state Senate. It then moved to the Assembly where, after many significant amendments, it passed by a large margin. Because it was amended, it returns to the Senate for a final vote before going to the governor for approval and implementation.

Some versions of SB 1146 were so threatening to such a wide range of faith-based educational and other public-benefit organizations that it aroused great concerns and led to significant public pressure and a significant concert of prayer. In its current form, SB 1146 requires faith-based colleges and universities like FPU to disclose to prospective and current students, faculty members and employees that the schools are exempt from certain federal and state laws. SB 1146 also requires schools to inform the state about their exempt status, and requires the state to post a list of all these schools online. Virtually all faith-based institutions in California will likely end up on this online list in some form, since these long-standing religious exemptions are crucial to allow the schools to provide an authentically religious educational program and learning/living community.

The new requirements would be in effect starting with the 2017-18 academic cycle. The one-year delay allows for regulatory clarification and time to add the new disclosures to the many public documents issued by faith-based schools. There are significant constitutional concerns with whether the state has the authority to target religious schools for special reporting requirements, and we continue to monitor the situation.

FPU remains committed without compromise to what we believe is wise policy and practice that expresses our Confession of Faith. That confession calls us to demonstrate Christ-like love and kindness to all persons, including those with whom we disagree on fundamental questions of theology and Christian living. We welcome those who want to learn and serve and grow in the context of our unique community.

For all of us connected with Fresno Pacific our primary identity must be in Christ, not in our sex, gender, ethnicity, race, culture or socio-economic status. We are all sincere strugglers, bearing one another’s burdens in love. We seek to contribute important benefits to the secular society and government that defines the context in which we seek to serve. We live in the tension of grace and truth, of compassion and conviction, of accepting people without approving of everything they believe and do. We desire and welcome understanding and support from our secular government for the valuable diversity and human development we add to the social system and the economy as a whole. And we believe that the best way to do this is by loving God above all and seeking first the kingdom of Jesus Christ as we love our neighbors, including our neighbors with whom we fundamentally disagree, something a secular government cannot fully understand.

We understand that the intent of SB 1146 is to negatively target faith-based schools, not to help them. We have heard that efforts to deny Cal Grants to our needy students are likely to continue. Our responsibility is Christ-like faithfulness, wisdom and service. We are confident that, as he always has, Christ will continue to provide for and lead us here at FPU.