We have received news that California Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) intends to amend his senate bill 1146 (SB 1146) by removing a provision that would undermine distinctively religious colleges and universities in the state of California. It might have been the beginning of the end for religious education in the golden state. For a religious-based article on this recent development see Christianity Today’s article here. For a secular news source see the Los Angeles Times article here. Christians and other religious groups recognized the weight of this bill. Concern was not based on a slippery slope argument, nor were people driven by hysteria. The future of religious liberty in America is uncertain. We can expect more of this, not less, in the years to come.
In my ministry context, we feel the tension daily. I was born and raised in San Jose, California, so secularism, liberal politics, and hostility toward traditional religion is not new to me. But recently moving back after twelve years of living in the Bible-Belt (Missouri, Louisiana, and Kentucky), the tone here has grown more shrill. California, perhaps especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, represents well the experiment to strip the public square of all things religious and relegate religion only to furthest interior of one’s home and a small window for gathered worship once a week. The first amendment to our national constitution is strong enough that these aspects of religion do not face immediate threat, but what our more secular-minded neighbors do not understand is that for Christians, along with other religions, one’s faith cannot be contained within these confines.
Christians have long exemplified that religion impacts every area of one’s life. It affects one’s finances—stewardship. It affects one’s ethics—holiness and justice. It affects one’s view of government—God is ultimately the king of the cosmos. It even affects education, such as with this latest bill in California. For Christians, this is not a matter of obstinacy in our traditional ways or an entitlement to some perceived space in society; our stance is a matter of belief in and obedience to God. Our faith represents who we are and what we do. The state cannot drive it out of us.
We celebrate this small victory in a much bigger war for religious liberty. Tomorrow will go on, business as before, with well-meaning citizens paranoid at even a hint of religion in the public square. Our motivation should be to persuade our neighbors that religion is not a threat to society. Indeed, it is the great hope of society. We are not calling for special treatment; we seek only the freedom to serve our God as we have for millennia, including in something so basic as education. May God bless and sustain this freedom in the days ahead.