God and admission requirements

PATT MORRISON's e-mail is

I WAS MAYBE 8 years old the day I got kicked out of Sunday school. We were learning about Moses miraculously parting the Red Sea, when I piped up and asked, “Was it really and truly a miracle? What if it was just low tide? Did anyone ever think of that? Huh?”

It was my first and only expulsion, and it stayed with me, along with the compound unfairness that it happened before the milk and cookies. Why wouldn’t the teacher answer? Religion, I realized, wasn’t about question marks, it was about periods -- about faith, not about proof. As the scary bumper sticker out there warns me, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”

I relived my 8-year-old moment when I read recently about the case of an association of Christian private schools versus the University of California. Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, in Riverside County, dedicated to giving its students “a biblical worldview,” says the UC system is anti-Christian because it has ruled that several of the school’s proposed new classes are not up to college-prep snuff.


This isn’t the Christians versus the lions, it’s the lions versus the lions: UC with its 10 campuses and its reputation for scholarly rigor, and the Murrieta school, member of a big Christian schools’ association that says it has 800 members in California alone and thinks its courses are the equal of any. (In a case nominally about academic quality, UC misspelled “theoretical” on a form letter, and the religious nonprofit law group representing the other side misspelled “plaintiff” on its website.)

Like the ratings-driven right’s cynically fantasized “war on Christmas” -- imagine, those stone atheists at the Postal Service only sell Madonna and Child stamps for a few crummy weeks each year -- I have my suspicions that this lawsuit may be, at bottom, about shopping for a fight. It’s an ingenious technique: The adherents of creationism, and its not-so-extreme makeover “intelligent design,” demand that public schools must “teach the controversy” after they themselves contrive the controversy.

Some of the Calvary Chapel Christian School’s proposed classes that UC found wanting have engaging titles such as “Christianity’s Influence in American History.” Heck, I’d take a class like that -- Pilgrims, deists, the Second Great Awakening, Mormons, the Moral Majority -- fascinating stuff. But when the UC people saw that the textbooks would be published by Bob Jones University and a company called A Beka, alarm bells clanged like the carillon in the Berkeley campanile.

From the introduction to a 10th-grade biology textbook published by the Bob Jones University Press: “Those who do not believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God ... this book is not for them.” And “if the conclusions contradict the word of God, the conclusions are wrong, no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them.”

A Beka boasts that its books are prepared by people who “have tried consistently to put the word of God first and science second.” All its textbooks “look at the subject from God’s point of view,” and that the word of God is “the only foundation for true scholarship.”

Here’s the reason that private schools and I part company: Public schools, from kindergarten to graduate school, are about the only place left where Americans have to rub elbows and bump brain cells and otherwise keep company with people who aren’t like themselves. Once you hand back that polyester graduation gown, you can spend the rest of your life immersed in a world and culture of your choosing -- rodeo or Quimper pottery or religion. But before you do, if you want to go to public schools -- such as any of the UC campuses -- the requirement is that students share some common principles, facts and operating principles, and that’s where UC is right and Calvary is wrong.


UC isn’t telling Calvary or any other private school -- from Islamic madrasas to Phillips Andover Academy -- what to teach. They can teach anything they want. They can teach that the Earth is as flat as a deep-dish pizza and created in almost as short a time. They can teach that the world was made by singing spirits or a mole, as other faiths do. But getting an “A” in it doesn’t mean you’re entitled to get into UC -- or just as important, that you’re prepared to.