Judge Rules California University Has Right to Reject Christian Courses for Admission Requirements

Wed Aug 13, 2008 - 12:15 pm EST

By Kathleen Gilbert

LOS ANGELES, CA, August 13, 2008 ( - A federal judge ruled Friday that the University of California is permitted to reject certain Christian curricula as inadequate for meeting admission requirements. 

The University of California (UC) system has decided that high school students who use certain Christian textbooks will not be considered to have taken the requisite courses necessary for admission to the University.

However, the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), as well as Calvary Chapel Christian School and five Calvary students, argued that the University’s decision was not based on a rational assessment of the texts’ educational value, and reveals a bias against Christian beliefs. This, they alleged, violates their Constitutional rights, including freedom of speech and the freedom of religion.

The dispute concerned certain textbooks - including physics, American literature, and biology texts from such publishers as Bob Jones University (BJU) Press and A Beka books - which utilize a Christian perspective. While the UC argued that these texts were deemed inadequate purely on an objective assessment of their educational content, ACSI contends that the inclusion of Christian material in no way compromised the curriculum.

According to court documents, in order to prove that their rights were violated, ACSI and Calvary School "would have to show that Defendants rejected the challenged courses to punish religious viewpoints rather than out of rational concern about the academic merit of those religious viewpoints."  

Many of the plaintiff’s motions were dismissed for procedural reasons. The remaining complaints attempted to convince the Court that UC’s admission policy was unduly subjective. 

Wyatt R. Hume, UC provost and executive vice president for academic and health affairs, however, claimed that the textbooks were evaluated from an objective academic perspective: "The question the university addresses in reviewing courses is not whether they have religious content, but whether they provide adequate instruction in the subject matter. 

"We also evaluate whether or not they promote the analytical and critical thinking skills necessary to succeed at the University. Our decisions are made based on the academic merits of the course."

However, an ACSI document reported that, by the University’s own admission, the decision to reject the textbooks was based, not upon the quality of objective material, but upon the perception that they "prioritize religion over science."  According to the report, UC officials had also said in the case of the BJU physics book, there was no objection to the factual information presented. Instead it was indicated that "if the Scripture verses that begin each chapter were removed the textbook would likely be approved." 

Yet the court ultimately rejected the claim that the UC system showed ill will toward the Christian faith, and stated that the University had legitimate reasons to reject the texts, including the omission of important subject material and inadequate emphasis on developing critical thinking skills. According to the decision summary, the Court "agreed with the analyses of experts who found [the textbooks] academically inadequate."

To Ian Slatter, representing the Home School Legal Defense Association, the UC system’s victory came as little surprise. He declined to comment as to whether the new court ruling could pose a significant threat to the homeschooling agenda.

Jennifer Monk, the plaintiff’s lawyer, condemned the decision as a threat to the religious freedom of Christian education.  "It appears that UC is attempting to secularize private religious schools," she said. "Science courses from a religious perspective are not approved . . . if it comes from certain publishers or from a religious perspective, UC simply denies them."

This ruling does not mean that students who have taken courses using the unapproved texts cannot still be accepted to UC. Most students qualify for admission to UC by taking an approved set of college preparatory classes; students whose courses lack UC approval can still remain eligible by scoring well in those subjects on the Scholastic Assessment Test. 

Judge Otero’s ruling has been appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and if upheld, could reach the Supreme Court, considering its potential ramifications for future cases concerning freedom of religion in schools.

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