La Sierra University is a place, as its website states, “Where Academic Investigation, Christian Faith and Service to Others Unite,” and where academic topics are investigated and Christian faith is a cornerstone of education. La Sierra University is affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church and deeply committed to its faith. As the mission of La Sierra University states: “As members of the diverse La Sierra University community, we are committed to inquiry, learning, and service. Our community is rooted in the Christian gospel and Seventh-day Adventist values and ideals.”
As it has for 90 years, La Sierra University’s Adventist heritage and affiliation informs all its instructional efforts. Accepting bond financing does not preclude La Sierra University from offering an excellent Seventh-day Adventist education across all academic disciplines.
Government-funded, tax-free bond financing for construction of academic buildings and other facilities has been used by a number Adventist colleges and universities, including Southern Adventist University, Andrews University, Pacific Union College, and Loma Linda University, across the North American Division since 2003.
“While this type of financing can raise issues of separation of church and state,” says Kent Hansen, university legal counsel, “La Sierra University has carefully and publicly addressed these issues throughout the bond development process. Repeated references to La Sierra University’s identity as a Christian, Seventh-day Adventist institution are made throughout the bond issue Official Statement. It also states La Sierra’s affiliation with the Adventist Church, and describes the university as a community of learning that is also a community of faith. These statements accurately describe La Sierra’s policies and practices.”
“The issuance of the bonds does not alter La Sierra’s rights of religious preference in employment and student admissions or Adventist standards reflected in the policies of the campus. Accepting bond financing does not preclude La Sierra faculty from teaching their disciplines from an Adventist perspective and viewpoint,” adds Hansen.
Mr Peabody’s article focuses on the California Supreme Court decision in the CSCDA case. His article concludes that the Court case mandates that schools who accepted bond proceeds “…had promised that they would never use facilities financed with the bonds to further the explicitly religious aspects of their campus.”
But this is not what the California Supreme Court said. The California Supreme Court held that a school only needs to establish that “. . . the academic content of its secular classes is typical of comparable courses at public or other nonreligious schools.” Once that is established, a teacher may “express an idea or viewpoint that may be characterized as ‘religious.’”
Mr. Peabody concludes that no religious viewpoint may be offered in a classroom financed with bond proceeds. But the Court said the opposite. The Court made it clear that the schools were permitted all uses of bond-financed facilities except sectarian instruction or as a place for religious worship or in connection with the School of Divinity. The Court said: “The circumstance that a religious viewpoint may also be expressed in these otherwise secular classes does not preclude a determination that providing the proposed tax exempt bond financing to the school promotes the state’s interest in the intellectual development of its residents and only incidentally benefits religion.”
“Mr. Peabody quotes the opinions expressed by the trial court and the appellate court and by the dissenting judges in the California Supreme Court decision in his article,” said Mr. Hansen. “But none of this reasoning is the law of the land. The majority of the California Supreme Court has reached its decision, and all the reasoning quoted by Mr. Peabody is not material to La Sierra University’s use of the bond financed facilities. It is not the law. Only the majority decision of the California Supreme Court is the law.”
The bond financing has not been used to construct or support capital projects for sectarian instruction such as religion courses, places of religious worship or in connection with the School of Divinity. The University was careful to expend the bond funds in strict conformity with the Court’s decision and in such a way that the La Sierra faculty may and do continue to teach their disciplines from a strongly Adventist perspective and viewpoint.
As part of a simultaneously published point/counterpoint series, and in an effort to facilitate fairness and understanding in this conversation, all comments will be centralized on a third blog post, available here.