Calif. bill already impacting religious expression
"The vagueness of the bill has opened up threats to religious communities that the author did not intend," Biola communications director Brenda Velasco said.
Assembly Bill 2943 amends the state Consumer Legal Remedies Act by outlawing "sexual orientation change efforts" under the state's consumer fraud law. It labels as fraud any financial transaction of goods or services that promote "sexual orientation change efforts."
Summit Ministries' summer workshops target 16- to 25-year-olds and address cultural issues from a biblical perspective including God's design for sex and marriage. Critics of the proposed law fear such discussions in any forum where participants pay to attend, like the Summit Ministries conference, could put the host organization at risk of a lawsuit.
Typically, about 200 participants attend the California conference, Jeff Myers, president of Summit Ministries, said. Only 79 had enrolled for the June event at Biola when Myers pulled the plug and reassigned participants to conferences in other states. Myers defended the preemptive move, saying he feared the bill would pass swiftly through the California Senate and on to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature in June, which is also designated Gay Pride Month.
"What if I'm speaking at a camp, and I'm not telling them to change their [sexual] orientation, but I'm asking people to not act upon their attractions," Christopher Yuan, a frequent Summit speaker, said. "It might fall under this bill and be considered illegal."
Yuan, an adjunct professor at Moody Bible Institute, is attracted to the same-sex but is celibate. He speaks to audiences of teens and young adults across the United States about finding their identity in Christ, not their sexual orientation. If the California bill passes, Yuan believes those conversations could put him and his hosting organization, even a church, in jeopardy of a fraud lawsuit.
Velasco added, "As currently written, AB 2943 endangers the religious freedom of clergy, pastors or leaders of a number of faiths who care for [LGBT] persons in their communities."
John Jackson, president of William Jessup University in Sacramento, Calif., said he finds the bill's lack of exemptions most troubling. Without legal protections, Christian universities and colleges could find their teachings under scrutiny.
"We all have a psychology department," Jackson said. "We all have pastoral ministry counseling. And we think this bill, as it's currently written, attempts to say a therapist can't speak to a client that wants to change their sexual orientation. That could be very destructive for people seeking help in California."
The bill passed in the House and is now before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"California legislators are really struggling with this idea of religious liberty in a pluralistic society," Jackson said.