Evangelical day schools sue UC
By Michelle Locke
By Michelle Locke
BERKELEY, Calif. — In a clash between creed and curriculum, evangelical day schools are suing the prestigious University of California system, charging that it is biased against conservative Christian viewpoints.
The suit was prompted by UC's refusal to approve courses at Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, Calif., where textbooks, among other things, endorse the Bible's absolute authority and challenge the theory of evolution. U.S. District Judge S. James Otero in Los Angeles will rule soon on the university's motion to kill the lawsuit.
If the case proceeds, it will be unique. Neither UC nor the Association of Christian Schools International, Calvary's partner in the lawsuit, knows of any parallel.
"This is potentially a very serious lawsuit," said University of Akron political scientist John C. Green, who sees "important implications for the broader set of relations between religious groups and universities."
Tension between evangelical Protestants and higher education isn't unusual, said Green, who closely follows religious activism. What's notable, he said, is the question of whether an elite university system will accept students from conservative Christian schools in which parents have invested heavily.
Calvary's supporters say UC is trying to force Christian schools to ditch their scriptural commitments in favor of secular approaches. It's "pure discrimination against a particular viewpoint," said Ken Smitherman, president of the Colorado Springs-based Christian schools association, which has 800 member campuses in California.
But UC officials, who consider the objections academic, say they have a right to set standards that aren't met by the science classes and such courses as "Christianity and Morality in American Literature" and "Christianity's Influence on American History."
"It's not that we're trying to prevent students from getting exposure to the ideas in these textbooks," said Christopher Patti, UC legal counsel.
"It's just that they don't adequately teach the subject matter, in the view of the faculty."
The questioned textbooks come from Beka Books of Pensacola, Fla., and Bob Jones University Press of Greenville, S.C.
The suit, filed Aug. 25 on behalf of six college-bound students at Calvary, alleges that they face unusual difficulty getting into UC's 10 campuses because the university won't certify certain courses at their school.
Calvary officials readily acknowledge teaching from a particular standpoint. But Robert Tyler, an attorney representing the school, says the students score above average on standardized tests, indicating they're getting a good education.
"We want the university to respect diverging viewpoints and viewpoints that come from a Christian perspective," said Tyler, who works for a group called Advocates for Faith and Freedom and has four children enrolled in Calvary schools.
But Patti says, "We're not prohibiting them from teaching any of these courses and we're not saying that students who take these courses aren't permitted to attend the university. ... We're just saying that (the courses) don't meet our requirements." He said UC does allow use of the disputed books but only as supplements, not main textbooks.
The books read differently from secular texts. A section on civil rights, for instance, speaks of gay people's "immoral lifestyle."
Patti said UC's problems don't focus on such teaching about particular values but the texts' reliance on religious over empirical explanations. For instance, "Biology for Christian Schools" appears to settle the evolution debate in an introduction that says the Bible trumps any contradictory information students might encounter.
"These textbooks are very clear that their first priority is to teach religious principles and that science needs to take a back seat to that, and it's the judgment of the university faculty that that's not a very effective way to teach science," Patti said.
Tyler countered that Calvary students are getting the information they need.
"They're going to be well-prepared entering college because they're not hearing just a creationist viewpoint or just an evolutionist viewpoint. They're learning all the viewpoints."
Calvary's suit says UC balks at conservative Christianity yet approves courses elsewhere with particular viewpoints such as "Introduction to Buddhism" and "Issues in African History." UC officials respond that those courses are taught from an academic standpoint, not for personal religious growth.