Monday, August 18, 2008


There was a mindbreakingly bad news piece KARA FINNSTROM, working (apparently) for CNN, Los Angeles that was broadcast today by WDEF 12 of Chattanooga, Tennessee. This news splat was vaguely about the recent Federal Court decision in favor of the University of California. The UC and several individual professors were being sued by the ASSOCIATION OF CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS INTERNATIONAL, Calvary Chapel Christian School, and five Calvary student. Their goal was to force the University to grant credit for four courses offered by Calvary, and a biology course taught by Calvary Baptist School.

The WDEF story opened, “Can a private religious high school stress too much religion? A federal judge says yes, at least for students hoping to get into campuses like UCLA.”

Below is a review of the case drawn from the Court’s Decision. All quotations are from NO. CV 05-06242 SJO (MANx) “ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' "MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON PLAINTIFFS' AS-APPLIED CLAIMS" [Docket No. 172]. I encourage all interested parties to read an excellent piece of judicial writing. I take each rejected course in the order found there.

English, Course title: “Christianity and Morality in American Literature” This class was rejected by the University for several reasons- none of which were because it has a Christian bias. The objections included that the textbook, published by A Beka titled “Classics for Christians,” did not cover important writer’s key works, insisted on exclusive interpretations dictated by the textbook, and failed to teach critical reading skills. Further, the text is merely an "anthology of excerpts," which UC does not approve, no matter the content of the excerpts. From the UC Guidelines, "College-preparatory courses are expected to require students to read full-length works."

History, Course title: “Christianity's Influence on America” Text: Bob Jones University ("BJU") titled “United States History for Christian Schools.”

Professor James Given initially rejected this course because it failed to “teach critical thinking and modern historical analytic methods.” He wrote that the textbook, titled “United States History for Christian Schools” published by Bob Jones University ("BJU"), “… instructs that the Bible is the unerring source for analysis of historical events, attributes historical events to divine providence rather than analyzing human action, evaluates historical figures and their contributions based on their religious motivations or lack thereof and contains inadequate treatment of several major ethnic groups, women, and non-Christian religious groups.” University expert witness Professor Gary Nash found that “the text failed to encourage "historical thinking skills and analytical thinking" and failed to cover "major topics, themes, and components of United States history."

Calvary replied that an secondary textbook, “Pilgrims in Their Own Land: 500 Years of Religion in America,” was secular and taught all the materials sought by the University. However, they provided no evidence beyond mere assertion. The History expert employed for the trial by Calvary and the ACSI, Professor Paul Vitz, did “ … not refute Professor Given's and Professor Nash's conclusions that the text fails to teach historical analytic methods. Professor Vitz also does not opine that Defendants unreasonably rejected the course.”

Government, Course title: “Special Providence: Christianity and the American Republic” Textbook: “American Government for Christian Schools” BJU

University Government expert, Professor Mark Petracca concluded that the BJU Government text used “… as the principal text in a United States
Government course will not provide adequate preparation for study at UC." Professor Petracca wrote that this textbook made, “… many factual and empirical assertions that are not generally accepted among political scientists [or] historians and that are nevertheless not substantiated within the text by evidence." Notice that he is not claiming that a book cannot make these assertions, but when they are contradicted by general scholarship they must be supported by evidence.

World Religions (offered for History and elective credit): The proposed textbook, “World Religions” by Dan Halverson is not found on any major catalogs nor is the author known to have any scholarly publications in religion. Calvary failed to respond to the University’s request for correct publication information. Also, Calvary failed to respond to specific deficiencies in their course description. Nor did Calvary respond to the question of how the course treats the study of religion from the standpoint of scholarly inquiry. Professor Sharf, Director of Religious Studies at the University of California, Berkeley found that these problems were reasonable grounds to reject the course. The religion expert retained by Calvary and ACSI, Professor Daniel Guevara, offered no opinion specific to this course, or to the objections raised by the University.


The course challenged was not offered by Calvary Chapel Christian School, but rather was taught by Calvary Baptist School. The textbook used was titled Biology: God's LivingCreation (A Beka).

In the initial review, UC Biology Professor Barbara Sawrey found that this textbook, “characterized religious doctrine as scientific evidence, included scientific inaccuracies, failed to encourage critical thinking, and took an "overall un-scientific approach to the subject matter." She wrote that, "judgment was based not on the fact that the textbooks contained religious references and viewpoints, but on [her] conclusion that [the texts] would not adequately teach
students the scientific principles, methods, and knowledge necessary for them to successfully study those subjects at UC." In fact, a number of private Christian schools have also rejected the A Beka book, and an alternate published by BJU because they fail to adequately prepare students to study biology beyond the high school level, and particularly failed to present evolutionary biology in a competent manner.

These concerns are also addressed in the University of California Position Statement on Science Courses: “The texts in question are primarily religious texts; science is secondary. . . . Courses that utilize these texts teach students that their conclusions must conform to the Bible, and that scientific material and methods are secondary. Students who [are] taught to discount the scientific process and the scientific conclusions validated by a wealth of scientific research are not being provided with an understanding of scientific principles expected by the UC faculty.”

Expert witness Professor Donald Kennedy wrote for the University that, “[b]y teaching students to reject scientific evidence and methodology whenever they might be inconsistent with the Bible . . . both texts fail to encourage critical thinking and the skills required for careful scientific analysis." Similarly, University Professor Francisco Ayala found that the texts "reject the methodology generally accepted in science, which relies on observation and experimentation and on the formulation of laws and theories that need to be tested rather than accepted on the basis of the Bible or any other authority."

The plaintiffs, Calvary and ACSI, hired Professor Michael Behe to serve as their Biology expert. Professor Behe is best know for his promotion of creationism in the form of “intelligent design.” He submitted to the Court that the BJU textbook he reviewed did “mention” the standard scientific topics for a biology course. However, it was notable that he did not address “how much detail or depth" the texts gave to this standard content.”

The court wrote, “Therefore, Professor Behe fails to refute one of Professor Kennedy's primary concerns that the nature of science, the theory of evolution, and critical thinking are not taught adequately.

Accordingly, there is no genuine issue of material fact as to this issue. Defendants had a rational basis for rejecting Calvary Baptist's proposed Biology course.”

This latter phrase is a bit of formal legalese and found throughout the Court’s Decision, “Accordingly, there is no genuine issue of material fact as to this issue. Defendants had a rational basis for rejecting Calvary's proposed _____ course.”

In this case it is not merely pro forma, but obviously appropriate and true.

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