All fair-minded people should be troubled by a chilling measure working its way through the Legislature that could harm the religious liberty of colleges and universities in California.

Senate Bill 1146 would force private colleges and universities in California to abide by strict rules set forth by the state. Religious schools would now be required to abide by government code if they receive any form of state funding. This includes direct state aid or indirect funds like Cal Grants.

This bill would effectively force private colleges and universities to choose between their religious beliefs or following strict government regulation.

SB 1146 would force them to comply with laws that conflict with their religious beliefs. The First Amendment of the Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This bill clearly violates that right by forcing a religious school to follow state code over the free exercise of their religious beliefs.

More than 40 schools in California could be affected, including Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, and Concordia University in Irvine. If the bill becomes law, some may decide to close their doors. Their decision to close could cost hundreds of faculty members their jobs and deny thousands of students an education.

The targets of this bill are religious colleges and universities, but the true victims of this legislation would be the innocent students. If schools close down in the face of these new restrictions, students would have fewer places to learn and obtain a college degree. Providing students with fewer school choices diminishes their opportunity to receive a college education. These schools also provide students with a safe environment to practice their religion, which could disappear if this bill becomes law and schools shut down.

Many students rely on Cal Grants to help pay for college. By refusing to submit to state regulations, schools may have to stop accepting students that use the Cal Grant program. Students would have to take out massive private loans, or work two or three jobs to make up for the lost Cal Grant aid.

There are more than 60,000 students who attend these religious schools with the help of Cal Grants. If this law is passed, they may have to find an alternative school, or worse, drop out completely. The stress and confusion of having to transfer schools could add an extra year or two onto the time it takes students to graduate. This would cost them thousands of dollars in tuition for the extra years of schooling.

Colleges and universities would also have to raise millions of dollars to fund their own private scholarships to assist students with making up for the lost funding.

The last thing the Legislature should do is limit students’ ability to obtain a college degree. A good education is essential to finding a quality job in California. Public colleges and universities are already overcrowded, and these private colleges provide a great opportunity for thousands of students to get a degree.

The author of this bill continues to state that his intent is to protect students. This misguided legislation will actually do the opposite and hurt a student’s ability to earn a college degree.

Let your voice be heard and contact your legislators to let them know that colleges and universities should be free to follow their religious beliefs. Together, we can protect the First Amendment rights of all Californians.

Assemblyman Matthew Harper represents the 74th Assembly District; he is the former Mayor of the City of Huntington Beach. The 74th Assembly District includes the cities of Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, Irvine, Laguna Woods & Laguna Beach.