So if the bill passes, will students lose their state-issued Cal Grants?
That is a danger. The bill explicitly authorizes an LGBT student who claims discrimination to file a civil lawsuit against the college. But a more aggressive means of enforcing the state’s rules is to authorize the relevant agency to declare the college—and thus all its students—ineligible to participate in the grant program. Harming tens of thousands of students in this immediate way would likely be highly unpopular, and Lara has reiterated that it’s not his intent to do so. However, the bill is unclear on that point: The latest version is missing an earlier provision that had said the bill would not affect the “operation of the Cal Grant program.”
Even restoring that disclaimer might have little effect. Colleges may still have to certify they do not discriminate in order for their students to be eligible; and the threat of liability from private lawsuits may be just as effective as an agency decision in driving the college either to drop out of the grant program or to violate its religious tenets.
Okay, but could students also lose their federal grants and loans?
No. California cannot change the exemption for federal funding, only its own exemption for state funding.
Title IX is the federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination by colleges receiving federal funds. It contains the same sort of religion-protective exemption language that California is now trying to change. (Indeed, one reason for the California bill was that more colleges were claiming Title IX exemptions after the Supreme Court’s 2015 same-sex-marriage decision.) Whatever happens with this bill, students at religious colleges will continue to receive federal grants and loans.
I’ve heard something about a “disclosure” requirement. That sounds scary. What does that do?
The California bill requires that in-state religious colleges that have claimed the federal exemption must disclose that fact in admissions and orientation materials, in faculty and student handbooks, and at a “prominent” physical location on campus. The proponents say this is necessary to ensure that LGBT students and faculty are not surprised by college rules.
Ensuring notice seems like a legitimate concern in general. LGBT people often face insecurity about how others will treat them; they are harmed if a rule of conduct at their college is a surprise to them. Moreover, the argument that students should be able to choose diverse educational perspectives presumes they have information about the choice they’re making.
The US Department of Education has published the names of colleges claiming the Title IX exemption; people on both sides of the issue have called it an effort at “shaming.” But there may be more ground for requiring that colleges’ own materials to give notice to prospective and current students. Christian colleges generally maintain that the notice they currently give is sufficient, and one can argue that students should already know what they are getting. But several colleges have indicated that they can accept disclosure requirements as a means of ensuring transparency: Their objection is to the rest of the bill.