U.C. wins ACSI case

In a decision dated August 8, 2008, a federal district court in California has thrown out a lawsuit brought by the Association of Christian Schools International against the University of California, in which the ACSI argued that the University’s refusal to approve some of the Christian schools’ courses violated First Amendment guarantees to freedom of religion and freedom of expression.

The case will no doubt be appealed — and more than once, in fact: Along with its decision on the substantive claims, the district court ruled that the ACSI does not have legal standing to be a party in this case. That means the ACSI would need to appeal this decision on the standing issue before it can continue as a party on appeal.  Presumably, after that, there will be an appeal on the substantive issues, even if the substantive appeal is brought only on behalf of the one Christian school and its students, without the ACSI participating as a plaintiff.

The ACSI’s central argument is one that the creationists will not give up without a fight.  This is the argument that the University of California’s policy and practice constitute unconstitutional “viewpoint discrimination” against certain religious beliefs and expression.  This same argument is being used around the country in a variety of conflicts, such as in the attempt by the Institute for Creation Research to obtain accreditation in Texas for its distance education Masters degree program in “science education”.

Bloggers Ed Brayton and John Pieret note the remarkable incompetence of the plaintiffs’ lawyer, as reflected in the judge’s explanation of certain rulings in the case. Commenters on Ed Brayton’s Dispatches from the Culture Wars have enjoyed remarking on the lawyer’s “newbie” performance. This lawyer is no newbie though: He is none other than Wendell Bird, who’s been at this since his days as a law school student, and who was hired as a special assistant by the Louisiana Attorney General to represent that state in defending its law requiring “balanced treatment of evolution and creation science,” when that law was challenged before the Supreme Court of the United States (see Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987).

The case involves high school courses in a number of subject areas. As for the biology, in particular, here are the passages in the court’s decision that I see as most important:

[from DC opinion p. 17]

[The Biology] course proposed a primary text published by A Beka titled Biology: God’s Living Creation.* UC Professor Barbara Sawrey reviewed this text and concluded that it was inappropriate for use as the primary text in college-preparatory science classes.* Professor Sawrey found the text problematic because it characterized religious doctrine as scientific evidence, included scientific inaccuracies, failed to encourage critical thinking, and took an “overall un-scientific approach to the subject matter.”* Sawrey’s “judgment was based not on the fact that the textbooks contained religious references and viewpoints, but on [her] conclusion that [the texts] would not adequately teach students the scientific principles, methods, and knowledge necessary for them to successfully study those subjects at UC.”*[15] forming her conclusions, Professor Sawrey shared her findings with other members of the course review committee, who supported her conclusions.*

[fn. 15] Similarly, some Christian schools have declined to use BJU and A Beka textbooks because of concerns about the texts’ academic merit. *(“[ Christian School] felt that the A Beka books . . . did not represent the same level of academic could find in some other texts.”[, *] “[Patten Academy declined to use A Beka and textbooks] because they didn’t provide the content that the principal and faculty believed prepare the youngsters to meet their post-high school goals.”); cf. [*] Oaks Christian School] acknowledge[s] that there was a much fuller treatment of evolution secular book that [it] used [than the BJU biology textbook, which it did not use].”).

[from DC opinion p. 18] 

Both professors concluded that neither the A Beka nor the BJU Biology texts are appropriate for use as the principal text in a college preparatory biology course. * In making this finding, Professor Kennedy reiterated Professor Sawrey’s initial conclusion that “the problem is not . . . that the creationist view is taught as an alternative to scientific explanations, but that the nature of science, the theory of evolution, and critical thinking are not taught adequately.”

*Cited locations in the evidentiary record and/or footnotes omitted.

I studied biology in a Roman Catholic high school in the 1960s, where the textbook used was BSCS Biology: A Molecular Approach (i.e., the BSCS “Blue Version”; see http://www.bscs.org/ecommunity/evolution.html for BSCS on evolution). Since this was a Catholic school, there was no Constitutional prohibition against teaching religion. When the teachings of the Catholic Church came up in our biology class (which was not all that often), the nun who taught the course had no hesitation in discussing those religious teachings; but the difference between science and religion was never blurred or confused. That, it seems, makes all the difference.


added 8/17/08:

for a good non-legalese synopsis of the decision, see



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  1. […] The legal complaint filed by ICR is bizarre not only in its arguments, but in the rhetoric of its language and even its textual presentation. Rather than attempting to describe it, here is one paragraph (from p. 62): Note the strenuously sophistic effort to present this as a civil rights case, and the invocation of Ben Stein’s movie Expelled, and the ACSI lawsuit against the University of California. […]

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