Judge says UC can deny class credit to Christian school students

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/08/12/BAQT129...

Judge says UC can deny class credit to Christian school students


SAN FRANCISCO -- A federal judge says the University of California can deny course credit to applicants from Christian high schools whose textbooks declare the Bible infallible and reject evolution.

Rejecting claims of religious discrimination and stifling of free expression, U.S. District Judge James Otero of Los Angeles said UC's review committees cited legitimate reasons for rejecting the texts - not because they contained religious viewpoints, but because they omitted important topics in science and history and failed to teach critical thinking.

Otero's ruling Friday, which focused on specific courses and texts, followed his decision in March that found no anti-religious bias in the university's system of reviewing high school classes. Now that the lawsuit has been dismissed, a group of Christian schools has appealed Otero's rulings to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

"It appears the UC is attempting to secularize private religious schools," attorney Jennifer Monk of Advocates for Faith and Freedom said today. Her clients include the Association of Christian Schools International, two Southern California high schools and several students.

Charles Robinson, the university's vice president for legal affairs, said the ruling "confirms that UC may apply the same admissions standards to all students and to all high schools without regard to their religious affiliations." What the plaintiffs seek, he said, is a "religious exemption from regular admissions standards."

The suit, filed in 2005, challenged UC's review of high school courses taken by would-be applicants to the 10-campus system. Most students qualify by taking an approved set of college preparatory classes; students whose courses lack UC approval can remain eligible by scoring well in those subjects on the Scholastic Assessment Test.

Christian schools in the suit accused the university of rejecting courses that include any religious viewpoint, "any instance of God's guidance of history, or any alternative ... to evolution."

But Otero said in March that the university has approved many courses containing religious material and viewpoints, including some that use such texts as "Chemistry for Christian Schools" and "Biology: God's Living Creation," or that include scientific discussions of creationism as well as evolution.

UC denies credit to courses that rely largely or entirely on material stressing supernatural over historic or scientific explanations, though it has approved such texts as supplemental reading, the judge said.

For example, in Friday's ruling, he upheld the university's rejection of a history course called Christianity's Influence on America. According to a UC professor on the course review committee, the primary text, published by Bob Jones University, "instructs that the Bible is the unerring source for analysis of historical events" and evaluates historical figures based on their religious motivations.

Another rejected text, Biology for Christian Schools, declares on the first page that "if (scientific) conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong," Otero said.

He also said the Christian schools presented no evidence that the university's decisions were motivated by hostility to religion.

UC attorney Christopher Patti said today that the judge assessed the review process accurately.

"We evaluate the courses to see whether they prepare these kids to come to college at UC," he said. "There was no evidence that these students were in fact denied the ability to come to the university."

But Monk, the plaintiffs' lawyer, said Otero had used the wrong legal standard and had given the university too much deference.

"Science courses from a religious perspective are not approved," she said. "If it comes from certain publishers or from a religious perspective, UC simply denies them."

E-mail Bob Egelko at begelko@sfchronicle.com.

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