UC Berkeley News


In the matter of Scripture v. scholarship
Christian plaintiffs sue the University of California over its refusal to approve certain religion-based high-school courses in admissions decisions

| 05 October 2005

UC's course approval process explained

The public debate over the relationship between religion and science in the classroom figures prominently in a lawsuit against the University of California filed recently on behalf of applicants for admission from Christian high schools. Filed in federal court in Los Angeles on Aug. 25, the complaint claims that UC violated the First Amendment rights (specifically those guaranteeing freedom of speech and religion) of some Christian schools and that it practiced "viewpoint discrimination" against their students by finding that some of the schools' courses do not meet UC requirements for college preparation.

The Colorado Springs-based Association of Christian Schools International devoted the Fall 2005 edition of its newsletter to a lawsuit against UC brought by Christian schools. Readers are asked to pray for the suit's success - and for charitable donations to help assure that outcome.
The plaintiffs are the Association of Christian Schools International, the Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, Calif., and six Calvary Chapel students (or their parents on their behalf). The defendants named in the lawsuit are Robert Dynes, as UC president and member of the Board of Regents; Roman Stearns, a special assistant to Dynes; Susan Wilber, systemwide director of undergraduate admissions; Dennis Galligani, associate vice president for student academic services; Michael Brown, chair of the systemwide Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS); and the UC Office of the President (UCOP).

At issue in the lawsuit are academic standards for admission to the university, specifically UC's process for assessing high-school courses to verify that they meet the system's college-preparatory course requirements (known as the a-g requirements). For a new or substantially revised course to be approved for the a-g list, a high school must submit a request, listing the course curriculum, textbook information, and supplemental materials, to UC for approval. Staff at UCOP review such applications to make sure that courses meet UC academic standards established by BOARS.

According to Ravi Poorsina, admissions media coordinator for UC's University Affairs division, more than four out of five course applications are approved; UCOP staff "can serve in a consultative role with the school if it wants to resubmit" courses that are initially rejected. The course-review process applies to all California high schools, be they public, private, or charter institutions. The University accepts courses from hundreds of schools affiliated with many religious faiths, and UC-bound students, after fulfilling UC admissions requirements, are free to take whatever additional courses they wish, including any religion courses their schools offer.

In a fact sheet on the lawsuit, UCOP reports that it has approved 43 Calvary Chapel courses, covering all disciplines including science, as a-g college-preparatory courses. However, the school's applications for a handful of courses in science, literature, and American government were not approved, for a variety of reasons.

Blending theology with anatomy, the A Beka textbook Biology: God's Living Creation, designed for 10th-grade students in Christian schools, is unambiguous about the source of its fundamental authority (see text excerpt, above). In its promotional materials, the publisher, while claiming the text to be "[s]cholarly, accurate, and up-to-date. . . ," also asserts that it is "[t]ruly nonevolutionary in philosophy, spirit, and sequence of study."
Some of the rejected courses used textbooks published by two leading Christian-textbook publishers, Bob Jones University Press (BJU Press) and A Beka Books, as primary instructional materials. Although UC has approved courses that use other textbooks from these publishers, its review team concluded that the books in question did not meet UC guidelines for primary textbooks. For example, a course titled "Christianity and Morality in American Literature" was rejected because it used an anthology as its only textbook - whereas UC requires that students read assigned works in their entirety; anthologies may not be the only required texts in literature courses.

UC also disallows science courses that rely solely on BJU and A Beka Books textbooks. At issue, the fact sheet says, "is not whether they have religious content, but whether they provide a comprehensive view of the relevant subject matter...." In the BJU Press and A Beka Books science textbooks, it goes on, "the publishers themselves acknowledge that the primary goal is to teach religious doctrine rather than the scholarship that is generally accepted in the relevant fields of study."

The introduction to Biology for Christian Schools (2nd Edition, BJU Press) clearly states, for instance, that students' conclusions must conform to the Bible and that scientific material and methods are secondary: "The people who have prepared this book have tried consistently to put the Word of God first and science second. To the best of the author's knowledge, the conclusions drawn from observable facts that are presented in this book agree with the Scriptures. If a mistake has been made (which is probable since this book was prepared by humans) and at any point God's Word is not put first, the author apologizes."

UC has not filed a response to the complaint but plans to respond within the month.

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