The initial phase of the California Creationist Lawsuit is over, and quality education is the decisive winner. Kevin Vicklund has Judge Otero’s decision, as well as a very nice analysis of the ruling up over at his blog. If you’ve been following the case closely, you can probably jump right over there for the details. If you haven’t been tracking the events closely, or want a quick review of the case, keep reading. I’m going to go over the history first, then I’ll talk a bit about what Friday’s decision means, and what is likely to happen with the case in the future.
The lawsuit (ACSI v. Stearns) was filed in federal court in August of 2005 by the Association of Christian Schools International, Calvary Chapel Christian School, and parents acting on behalf of their children, who were students at Calvary Chapel. They were challenging the University of California’s decision to refuse to accept several of their courses as fulfilling UC’s admissions requirements. The rejected courses covered the academic spectrum, with English, history, and science classes all failing to meet UC’s scrutiny. The common element in the rejected courses was that they did not actually teach the material that UC requires from incoming students. Instead, the rejected courses taught a radically wrong “Christian perspective”.
For most of us, the rejection of the courses was nothing more than the natural consequence of the Christian schools’ decision to reject reality and teach fantasy. From their perspective, it represented an unconstitutional attack on their freedom of religion. The court, obviously, did not agree. To see why, we really need look no farther than the introduction to the biology textbook used in one of the rejected courses:
The people who prepared this book have tried consistently to put the Word of God first and science second…If…at any point God’s Word is not put first, the authors apologize.
That should be enough right there to explain why UC didn’t think that the plaintiffs were teaching a reasonable approximation of a college prep biology class. If it’s not enough, I wrote several posts examining the “textbook” used in some of the rejected biology classes last year. It’s very clear that the schools involved are teaching the worst kind of creationist garbage, and trying to pass it off as biology.
The lawsuit took quite a while to make its way through the courts, but in April a decision was finally issued granting partial summary judgement to the University of California. In that decision, the judge rejected the plaintiff’s claim that academic standards constitute “viewpoint discrimination”, and ruled that the University of California’s policy of examining courses was constitutional.
That did not end the case, because it was still possible that UC was unconstitutionally applying that policy to the courses in question. UC filed a second motion for summary judgement on those claims. That’s the motion that Judge Otero granted on Friday.
If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to go read Kevin’s analysis of the decision. He went into far more detail than the short version I’m about to give you.
Basically, though, it comes down to this:
The court ruled that the Association for Christian Schools International did not have legal standing to include cases from schools not actively participating in the suit in their claim. He then ruled that even if they did have standing, they had not actually made proper claims for those courses. He also ruled that they could not rely on the expert testimony that they had submitted for those claims, because they submitted the testimony nearly a year after the deadline for such testimony had passed. That disposed of all but four courses.
The judge then went on to examine those four courses. The bar that the plaintiffs had to reach to make their case was high, because courts are normally reluctant to substitute their judgement for that of a responsible agency. The Christian schools needed to demonstrate either that the University of California staff that made the decisions acted unreasonably, or that they acted as they did because they had an animus toward Christians. They failed to make either point.
As Kevin points out, the decision is being appealed, and will probably drag on for some time. Unless ACSI gets tired of the case and the expense and gives up, I expect that this case will stay alive for quite some time. At the moment, though, the Christian schools’ prospects for overturning rational educational standards look relatively slim.