During a recent stroll around the west steps of the state Capitol, I eyed a group of “Yes California Independence Campaign” handing out the state flag. The flag contains a wonderful image of a bear that harkens back to the 1846 “Bear Flag Revolt,” when residents of Alta California declared themselves independent of Mexico for a few weeks. The revolution was rendered meaningless after the U.S. government raised its flag at Sonoma.
Unlike a well-publicized past effort to chop California into six separate American states, these “Yes” folks actually want the Golden State to become its own, independent nation. Such an idea would have been mocked out of hand before the Brexit vote, but the national media — always looking for some local angle on an international event — have been reporting on burgeoning independence movements in California, Texas, and elsewhere.
“What about the U.S. Constitution?” I asked one of the group’s friendly supporters. The group would call a constitutional convention and craft a new one. U.S. independence movements typically try to get out from under the thumb of an overly oppressive federal government. Given the left-wing politics of California, here’s a movement that would appeal to those who think the federal government isn’t nearly meddlesome enough.
At first, I recoiled at the type of constitution that would result from a series of town-hall meetings in places such as Berkeley, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Santa Barbara. Then again, the independence folks might want to spare their time and money. As worthless and unprincipled as the California Republican Party has been, its disappearance from the political scene over the past couple of decades has meant that Democrats can do pretty much what they want without any pushback. Why rewrite the U.S. Constitution when you can gut it legislatively?
In June, I reported on a bill that would have criminalized think tanks and corporations that questioned the current dogma about man-made global warming. The bill died, but it’s amazing so many legislators were supportive of a direct assault on the First Amendment — even if the assaulting was done under the guise of “unfair competition laws.”
Gov. Jerry Brown last week signed a host of far-reaching gun-control bills. As the Sacramento Bee reported, “Brown signed bills banning the sale of semi-automatic rifles with magazines that can quickly be detached by pressing a button, as well as banning possession of high-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds. He also signed legislation subjecting people who buy ammunition to a background check.” The “magazine” bill will require owners to hand them in or face confiscation.
Every year, it’s a new round of gun bans and measures designed to harass law-abiding gun owners. If California became a nation, Brown and company could just ban private firearm ownership outright, rather than doing it on the installment plan. Under our current regime, Californians are so accustomed to their leaders’ disdain for the Second Amendment that it’s increasingly tough to get anyone too alarmed by it.
Nevertheless, California’s Democratic leaders still have the ability to shock and awe. The full Senate has passed S.B. 1146, which is a direct assault on religious liberty. “The Equity in Higher Education Act … prohibits a person from being subjected to discrimination on the basis of specified attributes, including sex, in any program or activity conducted by a postsecondary educational institution that receives, or benefits from, state financial assistance or enrolls students who receive state student financial aid,” according to the Legislative Counsel. Essentially, the bill would reduce religious exemptions at colleges and universities.
As the Christian Science Monitor summarizes it, the bill “would allow lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students to sue religious educational institutions if they were denied married student housing, dorms, or bathrooms consistent with their gender identities, or otherwise subject to rules of conduct that singled out their sexuality or identity.” It also includes myriad reporting requirements. The latest amended version of the bill would not allow students to collect damages, but it would allow the courts to impose an injunction on these schools, according to news reports.
In late June, the measure passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee and now is headed to the Assembly Appropriations Committee to examine its fiscal impact. In other words, this isn’t some out-of-left-field bill that makes a point but dies in committee. This is a measure that has gained broad Democratic support and is making its way through the Legislature. It’s part of the left’s ongoing effort to criminalize any opposition to homosexuality.
Those of us in the libertarian camp have long warned about the dangers of taking government aid. Indeed, advocates for this law use the “public funding” argument. “Ultimately S.B. 1146 isn’t saying that religious institutions should be discarded,” argued Justin Campbell on the website Campus Pride. “What it’s saying is that religious higher education institutions shouldn’t be able to have the cake of discriminating against LGBTQIA students while also feasting upon taxpayer dollars for said students to attend.”
That argument is insufficient. Sure, it would be great if private institutions did not take financial assistance from the state. But these dollars are so deeply enmeshed in the system it’s nearly impossible for a college to avoid them. Religious institutions that rejected students who received state financial aid would be hard-pressed to find students. Such institutions sometimes receive state research aid. This bill gives them a tough, possible choice: abandon your principles or go out of business.
The measure is not just about bathrooms and dorms. It threatens the essence of these religious institutions. “The floors on our residence halls are not co-ed,” argued Biola University President Barry Corey in a recent Orange County Register column. “We integrate faith into our curriculum. Our community behavioral expectations have not adapted to changing cultural mores on sexual conduct and gender expression. And we do this while holding to strict anti-bullying policies and caring for all students who attend Biola, including gay students.”
Unlike in our state’s early history, Californians no longer have an appetite for revolt. The Bear Flag folks mainly wanted the right to own land. These days, Californians gladly vote for the politicians who obliterate their rights. At my ranch, I fly the flag of the State of Jefferson, a movement to create a new state out of far-north California (and previously southern Oregon). It’s a hopeless effort, of course. And there’s less chance than ever of changing the politics here as “our” voters flee in such large numbers. It might be best to swap the Jefferson flag — or the state flag, for that matter — for a white one, and just get used to the terms of surrender.