Amid the growing national debate over the mixing of religion and science in America's classrooms, University of California admissions officials have been accused in a federal civil rights lawsuit of discriminating against high schools that teach creationism and other conservative Christian viewpoints.
The suit was filed in Los Angeles federal court Thursday by the Assn. of Christian Schools International, which represents more than 800 religious schools in the state, and by the Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, which has an enrollment of more than 1,000.
Under a policy implemented with little fanfare a year ago, UC admissions authorities have refused to certify high school science courses that use textbooks challenging Darwin's theory of evolution, the suit says.
Other courses rejected by UC officials include "Christianity's Influence in American History," "Christianity and Morality in American Literature" and "Special Providence: American Government."
The 10-campus UC system requires applicants to complete a variety of courses, including science, mathematics, history, literature and the arts. But in letters to Calvary Chapel, university officials said some of the school's Christian-oriented courses were too narrow to be acceptable.
According to the lawsuit, UC's board of admissions also advised the school that it would not approve biology and science courses that relied primarily on textbooks published by Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Books, two Christian publishers.
Instead, the board instructed the schools to "submit for UC approval a secular science curriculum with a text and course outline that addresses course content/knowledge generally accepted in the scientific community."
"It appears that the UC system is attempting to secularize Christian schools and prevent them from teaching from a world Christian view," said Patrick H. Tyler, a lawyer with Advocates for Faith and Freedom, which is assisting the plaintiffs.
Wendell E. Bird, an Atlanta attorney who represents the Assn. of Christian Schools, said California was the only state in the nation that had taken such actions against Christian schools.
Bird said the schools have no objection to teaching evolution alongside creationism but consider the UC regulations a violation of their rights. "And a threat to one religion is a threat to all," he added.
UC had not yet been served with the suit, so spokeswoman Ravi Poorsina said she could not comment on its details. But she said the university had a sound legal right to set course requirements for incoming students.
"What we're doing is really for the benefit of the students," she said. "These requirements were established after careful study by faculty and staff to ensure that students who come here are fully prepared with broad knowledge and the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed."
Although private schools have the right to teach what they want, she said, students from those institutions can gain admittance to UC schools by completing the necessary course requirements at community colleges if they choose.
Those students can also request admission solely on the basis of their SAT scores, she said.
But according to the lawsuit, the odds are heavily stacked against students seeking admission through that route.
The suit also accuses the university system of employing a double standard by routinely approving courses that teach the viewpoints of other religions, such as Islam, Judaism and Buddhism.
The lawsuit mentions five Calvary Chapel students, identified only by their initials, all with outstanding academic and extracurricular records, who it contends will not qualify for admission because of the university's course requirements. The suit accuses the UC Board of Regents and five university officials of violating the plaintiffs' rights to freedom of speech and religion, and of displaying hostility toward Christianity.
It seeks an injunction against the university system's practices.