June 30, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, June 30, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
America's new state religion: California bill threatens existence of Christian higher ed
America, we are warned, is on the verge of adopting a new state religion, and that state religion with the focal point being the state of California is a new form of liberal secularism. This “incipient state religion,” warns Joel Kotkin, is particularly and threateningly represented by a specific piece of legislation, now pending in the California General Assembly. Known as Senate Bill 1146, this particular bill, if adopted, would virtually eliminate the possibility of Christian higher education in that state. Kotkin writes,
“Under the rubric of official “tolerance,” the bill would only allow religiously focused schools to deviate from the secular orthodoxy required at nonreligious schools, including support for transgender bathrooms or limitations on expressions of faith by students and even Christian university presidents, in a much narrower range of educational activity than ever before. Many schools believe the bill would needlessly risk their mission and funding to “solve” gender and social equity problems on their campuses that currently don’t exist.”Show Full Transcript
Now what we’re looking at here is the biggest threat to Christian higher education in the history of the United States of America. We’re looking at the fact that the state of California is here poised to make it virtually impossible for a Christian college or university to be a genuinely Christian college or university in the nation’s most populous state. Make no mistake, this is not an exaggeration. Senate Bill 1146 would effectively strip religious colleges and universities of any right to discriminate on the basis of LGBT issues or even on the basis of religious conviction except in very tightly defined programs that train clergy—that is, in particular pastors of churches.
This would mean that the very idea of a Christian liberal arts university or college would come to an end in the state of California. It means that if this legislation is adopted and stands, it would be impossible to have a Christian college or university that would offer a Christian worldview education and that would have Christian convictions when it comes to the sexual and other moral issues expected of students and of faculty. Taken to its actual logical conclusion, given the language of Senate Bill 1146, it would be discriminatory for a Christian college or university to require that faculty, or even the president of the institution itself, be a confessing and convictional Christian.
What we’re looking at here is an effort, now undertaken by many in the California General Assembly, to finally put the absolute foot on the oxygen tube of Christian higher education, effectively saying legally that it would be discriminatory to have a Christian institution of higher education. Addressing this issue at The Federalist, Holly Scheer writes,
“People used to expect that attending something sponsored by a religious organization required abiding by mores and behavior that religious body professes. There was a simple option for avoiding the ideas or practices of a belief system you don’t agree with: don’t frequent their space. This courteous expectation naturally applied to all religions and expressions of faith.”
“California is now attempting to end this system of free association that allows people to define their local and religious cultures. California Senate Bill 1146 (SB 1146), which is slated for a vote Tuesday, seeks to limit the religious exemptions from federal Title IX regulations that colleges and universities use for hiring instructors, teaching classes, and conducting student services in line with their faith. Under the bill,” she writes “a college would be eligible for an exemption only for training pastors or theology teachers.” Rightly, she concludes, “this threatens religious institutions ability to require that students attend daily or weekly chapel services, keep bathrooms and dormitories distinct according to sex, require students to complete theology classes, teach religious ideas in regular coursework, hold corporate prayer at events such as graduation, and so on. In other words,” she concludes, “it threatens every practice that makes religious institutions distinct from secular institutions.”
Dr. Kurt Krueger, who is president of Concordia University Irvine, a Lutheran school, said quote,
“The most troubling provision of this bill limits the religious liberty to integrate faith and learning throughout the educational experience. The bill effectively eliminates the religious exemption under current law that allows Christian colleges and universities to operate in accordance with their beliefs, including the freedom to hire only Christian faculty and staff. If passed without amendments,” he said, “the new law would also very likely disqualify students attending California Christian colleges and universities from eligibility for Cal Grants, a key state-level student aid program.”
Now throughout the nation’s history, there has been an understanding that the society at large benefits by having a diversity and pluralism of educational institutions. The underlying idea is that society is strengthened by citizens having a choice in terms of the education that they would prefer, according to their own vision of education and their own religious convictions or lack of those religious convictions. The diversity of American higher education includes avowedly liberal and at least a few conservative institutions, public and private colleges and universities, and also the ability of private universities to be distinctively religious according to the religious beliefs and convictions of their sponsoring bodies or founders.
What we’ve seen in the United States is an erosion of religious liberty in so many respects; but until now, no state has attempted to basically put colleges and universities of Christian conviction out of business. But that is exactly what is now on the line in California. Make no mistake, what we’re looking at here is an effort undertaken by legislators in the California General Assembly to make it impossible for a Christian college to require students, or for that matter even faculty, to be Christian—as I said, even the president of the university when it comes to hiring and issues of claim discrimination.
We’re also looking at the fact that this is driven by the sexual revolutionaries who obviously have taken a take-no-prisoners approach when it comes to looking at the cultural and legal equation. They now intend to make it impossible to defy the new sexual regime by making it impossible to teach to the contrary. In an open letter to alumni of the institution, Barry H. Corey, who is the president of Biola University, wrote that,
“The bill seeks to eliminate the current religious exemption in California that fully protects the freedom of Biola University along with dozens of other California faith-based universities to operate in a manner consistent with our religious mission and faith tenets. The provisions of the proposed bill,” he writes, “represent a dramatic narrowing of religious freedom in California. It would mean schools like Biola would no longer be able to determine for themselves the scope of the religious convictions as applied in student conduct policies, housing and restroom locker facilities, and in other matters of religious expression, and practical campus life. Though the free exercise of religion,” he writes, “is guaranteed by both the US and California constitutions, Senate Bill 1146 would make religious institutions like Biola vulnerable to antidiscrimination lawsuits and unprecedented government policing. The bill,” he concluded, “if it became law, would diminish religious liberty in California higher education. It would unfairly harm faith-based institutions and it would weaken the rich educational diversity of our state.”
Similarly, John Jackson, president of William Jessup University in California, says that the law would effectively eliminate the religious liberty, in his words, of all universities in a great spiritual life with their entire educational experience. He writes,
“Prayer, chapel services, spiritual groups, and public service are all integral parts of the experience on faith-based campuses. In the name of transparency, the bill opens up the pathway for harassment lawsuits.”
What these college presidents are pointing to is the reality that if this law is passed, any student on campus can claim that it is a form of discrimination to require that faculty members be Christians. Furthermore, what is embedded in this lawsuit is the impossibility of a college having a Christian approach, say, to history or English or biology. Instead, everything would become a matter of absolute, enforced, state-sponsored secularism.
At present in California, the law in accordance with the U.S. and California constitutions recognizes the right of a Christian institution to be Christian, to require students or, even more commonly, faculty, to be Christians, confessing Christians, to set moral and other expectations upon faculty, and to have convictional or creedal and confessional requirements of those who would teach. At present, the California law recognizes an exemption from antidiscrimination lawsuits for Christian colleges and universities who adhere by Christian conviction to the understanding that men and women are different and have different roles and should live in different dorms and should use different locker rooms. All of that would simply become a matter of history if this law is to pass in California.
We should note that the law doesn’t specifically say that Christian colleges cannot operate by Christian conviction. What it does is make them immediately vulnerable to any student who claims that that’s a form of religious discrimination, which of course it is, which is precisely why the state of California and, for that matter, the United States government has recognized the right of Christian institutions to an exemption from laws that would otherwise outlaw discrimination on public university campuses or on private university campuses that claim no Christian conviction.
To understand what’s behind this, I point to an important new book written by Yuval Levin of the Ethics and Public Policy center in Washington. The book is The Fractured Republic and in it he writes this:
“Religious conservatives today can seem obsessed with sex for the same reason that someone just poked in the eye can’t seem to change the subject. They are being attacked on a particular front and are struggling to defend themselves.” He continued, “They are not the ones who made sexuality the center of the culture wars. Social liberals have, for the most part, picked these fights because orthodox views about sexual morality, which insist on fundamental limits to the scope of personal choice, strike them as uniquely oppressive and backward and they cannot abide their persistence. Indeed,” he writes, “many liberal combatants in our contemporary culture wars probably aren’t otherwise troubled by religion much at all. This is why,” he says, “they are baffled to find themselves labeled enemies of Christianity. They believe sexual freedom is essential to the project of modern liberation but need not be essential to the project of Christian godliness.”
In that one paragraph, Yuval Levin puts his finger on exactly what we’re facing here, and that is the fact that the sexual revolutionaries, in his words, cannot abide the persistence or even the presence of alternative worldviews as would be represented on a Christian college committed to Christian biblical conviction. They simply can’t abide the idea that there should be allowed such institutions to stand against the sexual revolution. Furthermore, they do believe that sexual liberty, by their definition, is essential to the modern project of individual liberation. They really don’t believe it could be central to any kind of worldview that would be guaranteed protection by the U.S. Constitution.
Here once again we have the direct confrontation between what I’ve described as erotic liberty on the one hand and religious liberty on the other. The secular elites continue to worship at the altar of sexual liberty to the extent that they are willing to dispense with, to redefine, or to minimize religious liberty. But what we’re looking at in the case of Senate Bill 1146 is a threat to religious liberty the likes of which have not been seen in America in any living generation. Indeed, the argument can be made that this is the most direct assault upon religious liberty when it comes to Christian schools in the history of this nation, and the legislation is even now pending in the California General Assembly. It has already once in a previous form passed the California Senate, and it is expected to pass once again.
We also have the very interesting phenomenon of these legislators saying that they want to restrict the religious liberty of Christian institutions to the training of those who will be either pastors or teachers of theology. That effectively says that the Christian worldview doesn’t apply to anyone else and can’t be used as an educational worldview criterion for higher education in the state of California. Let that sink in for a moment.
Finally on this issue, also recognize that even though this legislation is now pending in the California General Assembly, this is not an issue that will end in the state of California. California is and has been for so long the cultural and legal bellwether of the United States. It’s not only the most populous state in the union, but it has been one of the leading forces in terms of moral change. If you want to see the future, you have so often been able to look simply to the state of California. And now we’re looking at the fact that that future would be very dangerous indeed for religious liberty. So in terms of the frontline of the battle for religious liberty, for now all eyes are on the state of California.
California to consider legalizing recreational marijuana in November with "Adult Use of Marijuana Act"
Next, that very same state reached a certain milestone yesterday when it was announced that an effort to legalize recreational marijuana will now be placed on the November ballot in that state. There’s really very little surprise there. The momentum towards the normalization and legalization of marijuana has been building nationwide, but the state of California, one of the first states to legalize so-called medical marijuana, is now going to be considering what is known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. As Reuters news agency reported,
“Californians are set to decide whether to make recreational marijuana use legal, as other Western states have done, after the California Secretary of State’s office said on Tuesday the issue could be put to voters in the November ballot. The proposed so-called “Adult Use of Marijuana Act,” which is supported by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom among others, would allow people aged 21 and older to possess as much as an ounce of marijuana for private recreational use and permit personal cultivation of as many as six marijuana plants.”
Jason Kinney, who is the head of the initiative, said,
“Today marks a fresh start for California, as we prepare to replace the costly, harmful and ineffective system of prohibition with a safe, legal and responsible adult-use marijuana system that gets it right and completely pays for itself.”
Now, among the interesting worldview aspects of this particular story is the fact that those behind the initiative felt the need to put the word “adult” in this particular referendum. Again, it is the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. The reason for that is quite instructive. There is virtual unanimity right now on the fact that the use of marijuana is injurious to the brains of teenagers and young adults. That’s why there is basically a propaganda purpose behind the naming of this bill as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act.
Apparently lessons were learned from another initiative that went down to defeat in the state of Ohio. And one of the reasons, in retrospect, it was believed to have been defeated, even as at first it was thought to have a good chance of success, is because the advocates of marijuana legalization created a mascot, and then they put that mascot on college and university campuses in Ohio. That led people, quite naturally, to believe that the effort to legalize marijuana had a great deal to do with college students, undergraduates aged 18 to 22 on the norm, and thus attracting the very people who were supposedly not going to be able to buy legal marijuana in the first place. That’s why we should note the word “adult” has been placed within this. But you’ll also note that the legal age of adulthood in states is 18, but the legal age for buying marijuana and in some states for also buying alcohol is 21, indicating that even a society that claims to know what an adult is and how to keep marijuana or alcohol out of the hands of those it does not define as adults actually isn’t quite so sure what an adult is after all.
As I said, there’s really very little surprise that California would move in this direction. The question politically has been, why has it waited so long, even as other states, especially those in the American West, have already moved in this direction? But we also need to note the massive economic aspect of this. It is expected that the marijuana industry, if legal in California, could represent billions of dollars in annual economic impact and—you expect this—it is promised that it will bring hundreds of millions of dollars in annual tax income.
The economics of morality: Microsoft first major company to try capitalizing on marijuana
When it comes to the marijuana story, another very interesting aspect, this one from the New York Times—a recent story telling us that the cultural shift on marijuana is at least partly represented by the fact that Microsoft, a major American corporation, to the very least, is “dipping its toe into the trade on marijuana.”
Nathaniel Popper writes,
“As state after state has legalized marijuana in one way or another, big names in corporate America have stayed away entirely. Marijuana, after all, is still illegal, according to the federal government. But,” writes Popper, “Microsoft is breaking the corporate taboo on pot this week by announcing a partnership to begin offering software that tracks marijuana plants from ‘seed to sale,’ as the pot industry puts it.”
As the New York Times noted,
“For the young and eager legalized weed industry, Microsoft’s willingness to attach its name to any part of the business is a big step forward.”
Matthew A. Karnes, founder of Green Wave Advisors, a firm identified as one that provides data and analysis of the marijuana business, said,
“Nobody has really come out of the closet, if you will. It’s very telling that a company of this caliber is taking the risk of coming out and engaging with a company that is focused on the cannabis business”
This news story points to the fact that every time you see a major story having to do with a moral issue, there is almost always an economic issue behind it—sometimes driving it. In the case of the legalization of recreational marijuana, clearly there are moral and social issues that are even prior to the economic issues. But notice the economic issues come very quickly. Virtually every headline story writing about the fact that there is now going to be an opportunity for legal recreational marijuana in California—now remember, merely for adults—the claim is that there will be a vast economic impact that will benefit the entire state, enriching its state tax coffers and meaning—you see this argument coming again and again—that taxes might well be lower if only you could legalize marijuana and tax that. Who then, the question is asked, could be harmed?
In this way, the taxation of marijuana operates something like the state-sponsored lotteries that also are now so much a part of American culture. The state will decide to profit by something that is injurious to its own citizens. When it comes to this issue, again from the state of California, one of the interesting things about it is the fact that marijuana itself is a significant issue, but what’s also significant is the way that these marijuana initiatives are packaged and presented to the public.
There are clear worldview issues invoked in the use of marijuana, but there is also a huge arena of worldview analysis when it comes to how exactly these issues are put before the people—the arguments that are made for and against and how even the initiative is labeled. You just have to wonder in California how many alarm bells are going off, morally speaking, by the fact that this initiative had to be named the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. If you’ve got to use the word “adult” in the very name of the initiative, guess what? You’ve already got a problem.