A Los Angeles federal judge has issued a tentative ruling to allow a Christian school in Riverside County and six of its students to proceed with a discrimination lawsuit against the University of California over its admissions policies.
In a case that has drawn national attention, the plaintiffs, including Calvary Chapel Christian School of Murrieta and a group representing 4,000 Christian schools nationwide, filed a suit last summer accusing UC of discriminating against them by setting admissions rules that violate their rights to freedom of speech and religion.
The case is being closely watched by Christian educators, free speech advocates and higher education officials who say it could affect admissions policies throughout the country. Specifically, the schools contend that UC is biased in its admissions standards against courses taught from a Christian viewpoint, while generally approving those from other religious and political perspectives.
The university has denied the charge, saying schools are free to teach whatever they wish but that UC must be able to reject high school courses that offer more religious than academic content or that do not meet its standards.
U.S. District Judge S. James Otero, in comments from the bench after a short hearing Tuesday, said he had tentatively decided to allow Calvary Christian and the other plaintiffs to pursue their claim against the public university system, according to lawyers for both sides.
The judge did not say when he would issue his final ruling, but the attorneys said they expected it within a few weeks.
Attorney Robert H. Tyler, who represents the Murrieta school, said Wednesday that his clients were pleased by the ruling. “The court has clearly indicated that substantial parts of our case, concerning viewpoint discrimination, free speech and equal protection, will go forward,” Tyler said.
“It’s a first hurdle for a plaintiff in any lawsuit,” said Wendell R. Bird, an Atlanta attorney who represents the Assn. of Christian Schools International.
UC counsel Christopher M. Patti said the judge appeared to be leaning toward granting a UC motion to dismiss one claim in the case but appeared likely to allow most of the lawsuit to proceed. Patti said Otero also made note of the fact that other types of religious schools, including Jewish and Muslim schools, had not joined Calvary’s suit.
The lawsuit charges that UC violated the students’ and the school’s rights by rejecting certain courses as not meeting the university’s admissions standards. Last school year, for instance, UC said it would not give Calvary students admissions credit for an English class, Christianity and Morality in American Literature; a history course, Christianity’s Influence in America; and a government class titled Special Providence: Christianity and the American Republic.