Christian Schools Sue U. Calif. System over Content
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
More than 800 Christian schools are suing the University of California system. They're challenging the university's unwillingness to give students applying for admission credit for some courses taken at the Christian schools because of the religious content. Today in Los Angeles, a federal judge will take up this latest twist in the battle over religion in schools. And we have a report this morning from NPR's Elaine Korry in San Francisco.
ELAINE KORRY reporting:
Before a student can attend the nation's largest public university system, they have to pass high school courses in science, history, math and literature. The schools submit their courses for review, and the university decides if they meet college prep standards. Wendell Bird represents the Association of Christian Schools International. In the lawsuit, he charges the UC system with discrimination for excluding science courses that challenge Darwin's theory of evolution.
Mr. WENDELL BIRD (Association of Christian Schools International): They said expressly that it was the religious viewpoint added to biology-slash-science course descriptions that use either of the two leading textbooks for Christian schools.
KORRY: The textbooks, published by well-known Christian presses, are used by one of the plaintiffs, Calvary Chapel Christian School. It's in Murietta, 40 miles southeast of Los Angeles. Attorney Christopher Patti, who represents the UC system, says the university accepts plenty of courses with a Christian viewpoint, so long as they're primarily academic, but in this case, he says, the science came second.
Mr. CHRISTOPHER PATTI (Attorney): They were seeking, for example, approval of courses in biology that were really much more about religion than about biology.
KORRY: UC advised Calvary Christian School to submit a, quote, "secular science curriculum" with content generally accepted in the scientific community. The Christian schools say UC has no right to tell them what to teach. Their lawsuit alleges the university is really rejecting the Christian viewpoint. Their lawyer, Wendell Bird, offers another example. A history course, titled Christianity's Influence on America, was also excluded for having a focus that, according to UC was, quote, "too narrow, too specialized."
Mr. BIRD: The university of California has approved an infinite number of courses that are much narrower and much more specialized, you know, like Armenian history, history of India, history of Russia, USSR, Jewish history, Mexican history. And yet, Christianity's influence on American history was rejected.
KORRY: Six students at Calvary Christian School are also named plaintiffs. Bird said because of subjective criteria, these students could be excluded from UC. The university, with a total enrollment of 208,000, counters that it welcomes thousands of Christian students every year.
UC's lawyer, Christopher Patti, said students are not turned away simply for taking unapproved courses, and he argues this lawsuit is really about something much more basic: the university's right to set admission standards at all.
Mr. PATTI: The university have the right to establish legitimate academic criteria for admissions, and if we do that and simply apply those standards to everybody, there's nothing illegal about that.
KORRY: That's why university administrators across the country are watching this case closely. Today a federal judge in Los Angeles will hear UC's motion to dismiss the lawsuit or at least limit its scope. Elaine Korry, NPR News.