Another Trial, Everyone?

It looks like the case of six private school students against the University of California system will go forward to trial, as reported by Sean Nealon. The UC system sets course standards for admission, and has not approved certain courses, including biology, offered at the Christian private schools that the students attend. The students claim a violation of free speech and religious rights.

There are parallels, I think, between this case and cases that have come before where groups make a claim on public resources and are rebuffed because of their own unequal access policies. That would be a point toward UC prevailing in this case.

However, the new report includes this line, “Three classes in question — two literature courses and an English course — cover the needed material but add a Biblical view, an attorney for the school said.” This particular argument may well have been what led the judge to his statement that he was leaning toward sending this case to trial. It certainly looks like that puts an arguable point into play: should a course that presents all the material and then some that manages to get a course at another school certified be ruled inadequate by the UC system in making their admission policy? If the courses in question really do meet that criterion, then I see trouble for UC’s course evaluation system.

Of course, that isn’t the case for the biology courses, which are based on curriculum materials from publishers like A Beka and Bob Jones University, which have substituted codswallop where evolutionary biology should be. The problem is, though, will a jurist be able to clearly write an opinion that might correct a wrong (if there is one concerning the literature and English courses), while letting stand a correct evaluation by the UC system on the biology courses? That seems to be a big question mark.

Update: In looking at the complaint, there is this about the biology courses:

A. In Science
31. Defendants have a policy, stated in the “standard language” of a form letter,
of rejecting Christian school courses that use either of the two leading high school
science textbooks that contain a Christian viewpoint, because of the Christian viewpoint
to standard subject matter presentation in those texts and courses:

Subject: Language re Christian biology texts
. . . .
Below is the standard language that we give to schools who submit
biology/science course descriptions that include either the Bob Jones University
Press or A Beka Books texts:
“In establishing and implementing the “a-g” subject area requirements, UC
faculty’s main interest is that students entering the University are well prepared to
be successful at UC. The content of the course outlines submitted for approval is
not consistent with the viewpoints and knowledge generally accepted in the
cientific community. As such, students who take these courses may not be well
ss if/when they enter science courses/programs at UC.”

The PDF of the complaint is weird in some way. One can’t select a block of text and copy it cleanly. I’ve tried to make the above as accurate as I can.

Wendell Bird is arguing that the same situation that he claims applies to the lit curricula also applies to the biology curricula, that the courses offer all the material that is seen in other accepted courses, but then adds a particular viewpoint. Do the Bob Jones and A Beka books give appropriate time to evolutionary biology and make the students aware of the evidence behind evolutionary biology? I don’t think so. The argument might work in the lit instances, but then again, if the complaint is as off-base there as it is concerning biology, I don’t think that UC should be worried.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

3 thoughts on “Another Trial, Everyone?

  • 2006/06/28 at 5:53 am

    What was UC’s justification for not accepting the lit classes? The biology is easily empirically verified (or falsified), but what was it about the lit classes that made them unfit for admittance?

  • 2006/06/28 at 7:11 am

    This is from the ACSI complaint:

    47. The rejection of “Christianity and Morality in American Literature” as an
    English course (July 28, 2005) was for four stated reasons: “this course . . . does not
    offer a non-biased approach to the subject matter”; “Textbook is not appropriate”;
    “Lacking necessary course information” (evidently that “[o]utline is vague and lacks
    detail,” and “[t]here is not [sic] activities or assignments that tie to the supplemental
    reading”); and “Insufficient academic/theoritical [sic] content.” The course was also
    rejected as an elective, which routinely is granted if there is a rejection as an English
    course The rejection was on office of the President letterhead, and the cover letter was
    signed by defendant Wilbur, with the cover e-mail saying that “UC has completed the
    review of your school’s 2004-05 a-g course list update.” Exhibit 7.

  • 2006/06/28 at 8:23 am

    I’ve read the Bob Jones biology books. The A-Beka books are shoddy and inadequate in biology. They give short shrift to evolution, describing the theory inaccurately and incompletely, and ignoring the practical effects of evolution in genetics and population dynamics, and other places, throughout the book.

    It seems to me that the decision of the 6th Circuit in Settle v. Dickson County School should apply in some form here — there is no free speech or religious right to avoid doing the work assigned or required. (

    Jehovah Witnesses may not be required to salute the flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance. But if they apply to college, they may not claim a religious exemption from knowing the history of the United States. Same principle in California: If the kids want to go to UC, they need to meet the academic standards. They are not required to evolve, ony to know what the science is.

    I suspect that the English courses are similar: It’s not good enough that there is other material, or even more material, provided in the course they took; they didn’t study the required stuff. They have a free speech right to not study it, but they do not have a free speech right to claim a merit badge for work they didn’t do.

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