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 Christian school suing UC over college credits

[b]Christian school suing UC over college credits[/b]
[i]By Martin Kasindorf[/i]
January 13, 2006

LOS ANGELES — A Christian high school's lawsuit against the University of California is escalating the culture war over the role of religion in public education.

The Calvary Chapel Christian School of Murrieta, Calif., with 1,300 students, is suing UC for not giving credits for some courses with a "Christian viewpoint" when students apply for university admission. The lawsuit is about theological content in "every major area in high school except for mathematics," says Wendell Bird, a lawyer for Calvary Chapel.

Courses in dispute include history, English, social studies and science. In federal court here, U.S. District Judge S. James Otero could rule soon on the university system's motion to dismiss the high school's claims that its First Amendment rights to free speech and religion were infringed.

The school has also sued on other grounds, such as that UC has unconstitutionally treated Calvary students unequally compared to other students.

This clash over separation of church and state comes amid recent battles on whether religion can be incorporated into teaching evolution and science. Last year, the Kansas Board of Education rewrote science standards to cast doubt on the theory of evolution.

Last month, a federal judge ruled that the Dover, Pa., school board acted unconstitutionally in requiring science students to learn the "intelligent design" theory of life's origins along with evolution. Intelligent design is the idea that some forms of life are so complex that they must have been shaped by a designer who is left unspecified.

And this week, a group of parents in Lebec, Calif., sued to stop the high school from teaching intelligent design as a philosophy course.

Textbooks from Christian publishers

The civil rights lawsuit filed by Calvary Chapel alleges that the 10-campus University of California is trampling the freedom of "a religious school to be religious." UC rejected the content of courses such as "Christianity's Influence in American History" and "Christianity and Morality in American Literature."

In court documents, UC says the free-speech clause of the First Amendment gives it the right to set admission standards. "What we're looking for is this: Is the course academic in nature, or is it there to promote a specific religious lifestyle?" UC spokeswoman Ravi Poorsina says.

The university rejected some class credits because Calvary Chapel relies on textbooks from leading Christian publishers, Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Book. A biology book from Bob Jones University presents creationism and intelligent design alongside evolution. The introduction says, "The people who have prepared this book have tried consistently to put the Word of God first and science second."

UC says such books would be acceptable as supplementary reading but not as the main textbook.

Bird, Calvary Chapel's lawyer, says this is the first case of its kind because California is the only state that rejects giving credit for high school courses and textbooks on the grounds that they put religion over academics. Any decision in the case is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, Bird says.

Religious educators and public universities nationwide have stakes in the outcome, says Charles Haynes, senior scholar on religious liberty issues at the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va.

The case "could have serious implications for religious schools all across the country if the university wins," Haynes says.

UC's policies are "likely to have a chilling effect on Christian schools," he says. "And what about Muslim schools? Are they next? They teach within a Koranic framework. That doesn't mean those kids aren't well-educated."

Parents who home school their children also should be watching the case, says John Green, senior fellow in religion and politics at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in Washington, D.C. "Home schoolers, including people on the left, do it because they feel that their values are not being taught."

Ken Smitherman, president of the 5,400-member Association of Christian Schools International, contends that the Constitution bars a state university from denying applicants credit for courses that cover "standard material" but add a religious viewpoint.

"We're not teaching that water boils at a different temperature, or that the periodic table of elements doesn't have some of (the elements)," he says.

The lawsuit against UC alleges that the university accepts courses from other schools taught from a particular viewpoint, such as feminist, African-American or countercultural, so the school can't discriminate against "a viewpoint of religious faith."

Six students also plaintiffs

Smitherman's group, based in Colorado Springs, has joined the lawsuit. Six Calvary Chapel students who say they want to attend UC, including the football team's quarterback, also are plaintiffs.

Smitherman says enrollment in Christian schools could suffer if parents believe it disqualifies their kids from attending UC, which has 208,000 students. The separate California State University system, with 405,000 students on 23 campuses, adopts UC's admission standards.

Robert Tyler, a lawyer for Calvary Chapel, says parents send children to private schools because "they want their kids to be taught from a particular perspective, and the United States Constitution specifically protects that right."

Christopher Patti, a lawyer for the university, says UC isn't stopping Calvary Chapel or its students "from teaching or studying anything." He says students are free to take courses uncertified by UC, and there are alternative paths to admission — including taking extra SAT tests in specific subjects.

UC has certified 43 Calvary Chapel courses and has admitted 24 of the 32 applicants from the high school in the past four years, Patti says.

[i]Full article appeared in the hard copy of USA Today on Friday, January 13, 2006, or can be viewed online here[/i]:


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