Summit Student Conferences is a 12-day Christian mentoring program based out of Manitou Springs, Colorado, that has a special course designed to engage high school and college-aged students with faith and principles. According to their website, their mission “is to cultivate rising generations to resolutely champion a biblical worldview.”
They hold conferences in four locations across the United States including one at Biola University near Los Angeles, California. However, Summit has decided to withdraw from the Golden State after Bill AB2943 passed through the state assembly.
The bill seeks to insert new statutes into the state’s Business and Professions Code affecting organizations "offering to engage in, or engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with an individual" and includes the prohibition of "efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex."
Some have speculated that this bill could lead to the criminalization of religious groups that hold a traditional view of sexuality and marriage.
Summit Ministries’ president Jeff Myers released a statement on their website condemning Bill AB2943 and announcing the cancellation of the program at Biola University.
The statement said in part,
Summit’s program would fall under the proposed law because its lineup includes defenders of traditional man/woman marriage and people who advocate pursuing only those sexual activities approved in the Bible. Myers said it has also been common during prior trainings for students to ask questions of Summit staff about how to address confusion over gender identity and sexual attraction in the context of their faith. By prohibiting such conversations, AB2943 would cripple Summit’s ability to care for and equip its students.
I spoke with Professor Myers about the statement and the implications for freedom of speech.
Q: What are you hoping the impact of your statement will be? Do you hope to wake up the people of California?
JM: I am a college professor who runs an intellectual and thoughtful academic program. It seems that the state of California is treating people who have Christian beliefs as if they are crazy. I’m so concerned about this because I know how these sorts of things work. This is a dog whistle to the Left that as far as the state government is concerned, it’s open season on Christians.
It’s interesting, I had a conversation with an attorney yesterday who is highly placed in doing this kind of work, and he said, “This is the shooting of the wounded.”
The state of California believes that it has thoroughly won the issue against traditional marriage. Now it is going to go after the people who are left. That might sound dramatic, but it is the most blatant chilling of free speech in my lifetime.
Our program is not huge, but we feel that we can no longer function freely in California. We’re getting plane tickets for all of our students to fly them to another location because we don’t feel that we can tell them the truth in that state given the current climate.
Q: If the bill passes the senate and Governor Jerry Brown signs this law, creating a speech code essentially, what do you think the next step down this road will be?
JM: It’s awfully hard to tell what happens when you decide to end free speech. Obviously, when you endanger free speech for one group, you’ve endangered it for all of them.
Every totalitarian regime was started by targeting one group that the people in power thought would be vulnerable and then it grew to other groups. So I guess I would just take a look at what the favorite causes of the people who are in the state assembly, things they feel they can get away with. I’m guessing it’s going to be punishing cities that oppose the sanctuary city movement, the continued marginalization of Christians who hold traditional beliefs, but it could expand beyond that. That is simply what the state assembly is focusing on right now.
But does it really matter, ultimately? If free speech gets chilled to the point where people feel that they can’t speak up anymore, you’ve lost something inherently American about what a state should be.
Q: You mention moving the event to other locations where the program takes place. Where are some the other locations?
JM: We’ve opened up seats in three other locations. We have one in Colorado, Tennessee, and one in Pennsylvania. We will fly the students, most of whom are from Los Angeles, to Memphis, Philadelphia, or to Denver. So we do have seats available.
I just don’t feel like we can come back into California until the state legislature comes to its senses.
Now, I do think the law will face court challenges, possibly before it is even signed, but I’m not sure if that helps groups like ours because we have young mentors and young students. We need those parents to know that those students are safe with us to ask questions and find Biblical answers to them.
Q: Do you think the governor will sign the bill?
JM: I have every indication that it will pass the senate and that the governor will sign it. All the signals are moving in that direction.
Anything can happen in state government, obviously. It’s possible that the bill will get watered down from its current language. I think that would be a victory.
It doesn’t affect our particular program at this juncture. We had to make a decision for when the summer enrollment starts to kick in. We need to let people know to divert to another location.
With all this happening, hopefully, this will be a wake up call for the citizens of California to restore some common sense to their government.