Not since my days as a boy scout, during a 60-mile hike, have I experienced anything more intense as our recent meetings on Capitol Hill.
By: Jim J. Adams, Ed.D., LPC President
Promoting religious freedom in American higher education was the focus of my recent meetings on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. bringing together the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) and members of congress.
I was privileged to represent Life Pacific College in 19 different meetings over 48 hours to discuss the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965, commonly known as the HEA.
Our task was to represent faith-based colleges and universities to members of the Senate and House and to ensure protection of religious liberties – serving students according to our faith-based heritage. We shared with lawmakers our concern about recent attempts by state legislators in California (and elsewhere) to enact legislation in conflict with the HEA, specifically laws that would limit the ability of low-income students in our state from using Cal-Grants to attend faith-based institutions.
Dr. D. Michael Lindsay, president of Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, echoed our concerns, in his case with a regional accrediting agency that threatened their accreditation due to issues related to their faith-based stance. Dr. Lindsay and I respectively argued that the reauthorization language of the HEA can protect free expression of religious liberty for faith-based institutions and that state or local laws and accrediting policies should not conflict with its provisions and protections.
You may recall the specific threat in 2016 to Life Pacific College, and other California faith-based institutions in the form of SB 1146, proposed by a powerful California State Senator. At the time, CCCU President Shirley V. Hoogstra and the staff of the CCCU released a statement saying the bill as originally written, “would have severely affected low-income students who want to attend an academically rigorous religious college or university which have proven records of helping low-income and first-generation students graduate on time. Of those who receive Cal Grants, 75 percent are racial and ethnic minorities.”
Fortunately, the State Senator pulled from his bill the language that would have negatively affected faith-based institutions, for the present. He has said that he intends to revisit similar legislation in California during the next session.
The challenge to religious freedom for U.S. faith-based colleges and universities still exists.
Addressing the concern of unfair treatment by accrediting agencies, the CCCU wrote in a brief to Congress: “The Higher Education Act requires accreditors to respect the religious mission of institutions. Thus, accreditors should not base decisions about the status of an institution’s accreditation solely on an institutional policy or practice stemming from an institution’s religious beliefs. The CCCU seeks to ensure that the will of Congress is carried out by defining religious mission more clearly.”
Now, as U.S. senators and members of congress consider reauthorization of the HEA, we spoke up for Life Pacific College and Foursquare students who wish to attend other faith-based colleges in the U.S.
During our two-day schedule on Capitol Hill, we traversed countless security checkpoints, traveled in underground tunnels between government buildings, ate with Capitol Hill leaders in basement cafes, and dashed from one legislator’s office to the next, making the most of our time in Washington.
"The only memory in my life that comes close to the intensity of the schedule and the meetings in Washington, D.C. was when I participated as a boy scout in a 60-mile High Sierras hike over a few days. This time, at least we had air conditioning!"
In all, we met with more than a dozen of the top House and Senate leaders on these issues, and had two bigger events – a broad meeting with the Senate Values Action Team (a regular CCCU meeting with key Senators and a coalition of religious groups) and a luncheon with 40 or so key congressional staffers and CCCU regular coalition partners.
We appreciate the CCCU staff in Washington, D.C. representing the cause of faith-based colleges and universities. I am grateful to senators and members of congress who met with us personally, including, Sen. Ben Sass (Nebraska), Rep. Drew Ferguson (Georgia), Rep. Bradley Byrne (Alabama), Rep. Dr. Virginia Fox (North Carolina) and Chair, Education and the Workforce Committee, Rep. Rick Allen (Georgia), Rep. Francis Rooney (Florida), and Foursquare Church member, Rep. Kevin Cramer (North Dakota). In addition, other lawmakers and staff made time to hear our stories and listen to our concerns.
Most of all, I am reminded of the great need of prayer for our legislators and government leaders around the country who bear the responsibility before God to uphold the rights of students who choose faith-based institutions for their college education.
By: Jim J. Adams, Ed.D., Life Pacific College President