Dispatches from the Creation Wars

It’s been a while since we had news on the lawsuit between the Association of Christian Schools International and the University of California system. The judge last week dismissed some of the case and allowed other parts to continue (see ruling here). It’s an unusual situation. Basically, the court ruled the university’s admissions process is prima facie constitutional but that there was still some dispute over whether it might be called unconstitutional as applied to some of the specific courses they rejected.

The UC system decided not to give admissions credit to a handful of courses offered at some Christian schools because those courses failed to meet their criteria for academic rigor and, the university determined, did not adequately prepare students for the coursework they would encounter at a UC school.

There are two kinds of such challenges: a facial challenge and an as-applied challenge. In this case, the ACSI filed both types of challenges. A facial challenge argues that the policy, on its face, is unconstitutional, meaning that regardless of how evenly it’s applied the policy is unconstitutional by its very nature. An as-applied challenge says that even if the policy is constitutional by itself, it’s being applied in a discriminatory manner.

There were opposing motions for summary judgment. The plaintiffs asked the judge to grant summary judgment on both the facial and as-applied challenges; the defendants asked the judge to grant summary judgment in their favor on the facial challenge, but not the as-applied challenge. In both cases, the judge ruled for the defendants, dismissing the facial challenge from the university but not granting summary judgment for the plaintiffs on the as-applied challenge. That means the case goes forward only as an as-applied challenge.

First of all, the judge rejected the claim by ACSI that UC has a policy to reject courses that have religious content. The judge noted that UC had approved many courses from religious schools; in fact, most of the courses offered in ACSI schools are approved by the UC. That argument was clearly false from the start and the court recognized so.

Second, the judge rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the case required strict scrutiny, noting that where there is a clear nexus between the policy and a compelling state interest only the rational basis test is required. In this case, the court clearly recognized that the school has a compelling interest in making sure that students are adequately prepared to do the course work necessary when attending that school as part of the admissions process.

ACSI continually argued that the UC guidelines are the result of animus against religion, but the judge rightly rejected this argument because the evidence flatly contradicts it. If that was the case, why did they approve so many other courses from religious schools, including all but a handful of courses offered at ACSI schools? No, the reason these courses were specifically rejected was because they were substandard courses that would not prepare students for college course work.

The ruling is very long, mostly because the plaintiffs were literally throwing crap at the wall to see what sticks. The sheer number of different arguments they made against the UC’s policy is incredible, but most of them are so transparently ridiculous that you can almost hear the judge’s frustration in having to address them over and over again.