- (Photo: AP Images / Chris Carlson)
A federal judge upheld the University of California's decision to deny students credit for some courses offered by Christian high schools, rejecting claims of discrimination and infringement of free expression.
U.S. District Judge S. James Otero of Los Angeles ruled against arguments from Calvary Chapel Christian School of Murrieta and Calvary Baptist School in La Verne and said UC's review committees cited legitimate reasons for rejecting the courses, which include English, history, government and religion.
The university's decision was constitutional, the judge said in a final ruling issued Friday, noting that the UC did not reject the specific courses because of "animus," or anti-religious bias. The ruling follows Otero's decision in March that upheld the university's system of approving high school classes.
Calvary Chapel and the Association of Christian Schools International filed a lawsuit in 2005 when UC did not give credit for some courses when considering students' eligibility for university admission. The Christian school argued that UC unconstitutionally treated Calvary students unequally compared to other students and denied to honor courses that had a "Christian viewpoint" or "any instance of God's guidance of history, or any alternative ... to evolution."
The lawsuit contends that the UC school system has refused to approve over 150 courses that were intended to be taught by Christian, Catholic, and Jewish high schools merely because they were to be taught from a religious viewpoint. Calvary Chapel and ACSI argue that the UC is attempting to force Christian schools to water down their teaching.
"It appears the UC is attempting to secularize private religious schools," attorney Jennifer Monk of Advocates for Faith and Freedom said Tuesday, in a released statement.
The federal judge, however, ruled that UC rejected the courses not because they contained religious viewpoints, but because they were too narrow to fulfill UC's entrance requirements.
UC has approved many courses containing religious material and viewpoints but it denies credit to courses that rely largely or entirely on material stressing supernatural over historic or scientific explanations, the judge said, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. Such books would be acceptable as supplementary reading, but not as the main textbook, UC says.
One of the courses the university rejected was a history course called Christianity's Influence on America. The primary text in that course "instructs that the Bible is the unerring source for analysis of historical events" and evaluates historical figures based on their religious motivations, one UC professor on the review committee said. Another text, "Biology for Christian Schools," declares that "if [scientific] conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong," Otero said.
"No one is questioning the right of Calvary Chapel to teach what they want to teach. But what the case says is that when you do that, there may be consequences," David Masci, a senior research fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, said Tuesday, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Charles Robinson, the university's vice president for legal affairs, argued that 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."
The case has drawn wide attention as the role of religion in public education was in dispute.
Charles Haynes, senior scholar on religious liberty issues at the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va., had said before Friday's ruling that the case could have "serious implications" for religious schools across the country if the university wins.
Attorney Robert Tyler, who represents Calvary and a group of 4,000 Christian schools nationwide, said "this case is about the future of private religious education and the right to be able to have your kids learn from a religious perspective."
The decision has already been appealed, said Tyler, whose four children attend Calvary Christian.
The appeal will argue that the district judge applied the wrong legal principles as articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court and disregarded evidence showing the UC’s practice of rejecting courses merely because the officials disagree with the religious perspective from which a course may be taught.