Blog Post

California’s SB 1146 still discriminates

Media Contact

Melinda Skea 202-349-7224 media@becketlaw.org

Although the author of notorious California bill SB 1146 recently backed down and announced amendments to remove the parts of the bill that would have meant that thousands of low-income minority students would be unable to attend college, SB 1146 still includes controversial anti-privacy and “scarlet letter” provisions that would be both bad policy and unconstitutional to boot:

  • The anti-privacy provisions would force California’s religiously-affiliated colleges and universities to report four times a year on every expulsion and suspension of a student, and the reasons for the discipline. This language makes no provision for preserving the privacy of disciplined students, and may violate federal privacy laws that protect students’ privacy. California students don’t need every disciplinary infraction they’ve ever committed reported to the government or posted on the Internet forever.
  • The anti-privacy provisions are also discriminatory, as they target only religious colleges and ignore many other kinds of related institutions, such as military schools, some public schools, and fraternities and sororities. Singling out religious institutions solely because they are religious violates the principle that the government should stay neutral on religious matters.
  • Similarly, the “scarlet letter” provisions would also force religious schools under a cloud of governmental suspicion by requiring religious colleges to use government-dictated language to communicate their religious beliefs to their students, faculty, and communities. Schools like Fresno Pacific University have no objection to sharing their religious beliefs—in fact, that is part of why they exist—but object to having the government dictate how they express their religious beliefs. If the government cannot even have schoolchildren wear t-shirts that say “Tomorrow’s Leaders,” it certainly cannot tell religious schools how to share sensitive religious beliefs to their own religious communities and to the public they want to serve.
  • The scarlet letter provisions also violate constitutional guarantees of equality and freedom of speech because they target only religiously-affiliated colleges and universities.

These notions are just as wrongheaded as the outrageous idea that California should force poor minority students to give up on their dream of a college education. California legislators should finish the job and let SB 1146 die.

UPDATE 8/29/16: Under severe pressure, Senator Lara has retreated even further. He has taken out the anti-privacy provisions (presumably because they violated federal law protecting student privacy) and created a one-year delay before the “scarlet letter” provisions would take affect. After these further amendments, the bill passed the Assembly on August 23, and is now being considered by the California Senate.

Despite Senator Lara’s retreat, he still has not gone far enough. The Senate should still reject SB 1146 because the scarlet letter provisions continue to illegally target religious colleges and universities for special scrutiny, just because of who they are. If the bill comes before him for signature, Governor Brown should veto it.