Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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UC (as in California) admissions policy

Hunter Baker is apoplectic about a University of California admissions policy that does not permit certain courses taught to satisfy admissions requirements. Here, via Religion Clause, are some articles that cover the lawsuit filed by the Calvary Chapel Christian School and the Association of Christian Schools International.

The plaintiffs’ attorney is Wendell Bird, who represented the losing side in Edwards v. Aguillard, a case involving Louisiana’s effort in the 1980s to mandate the teaching of "creation science," along with evolution. He was also apparently once on the staff of the Institute for Creation Research.

I haven’t seen the complaint, but apparently the UC system has refused to allow certain courses taught from a Christian point of view (including biology, history, and American government) to satisfy admission requirements.

It will be interesting to see how this is litigated. The biology courses at issue apparently are biblically-based. The university system and the scientific community will of course say that the course is not science and can’t satisfy a science entrance requirement. Given the absence of scholarly consensus as to what constitutes "orthodox" history and political science, the university system will be somewhat harder pressed to defend its exclusion of those courses, especially if it has accepted other "perspectival" history and government courses in the past.

The strongest claims that the plaintiffs can make are that the system’s refusal to accept these courses burdens students’ free exercise of religion and denies them the equal protection of the laws. While no one is telling them that they can’t study what they want to study, their free exercise is arguably "burdened" by the admissions requirements. As I suggested above, it will likely be relatively easy to defend the science requirement, certainly if all that has to be satisfied is a "rational basis" test, and perhaps even if the pre-Smith "compelling state interest" test were invoked. I don’t think the courts will touch the more "philosophical" issue of whether science, as it is conventionally understood, also rests upon a kind of faith.

My own heart and mind are somewhat divided here. On the one hand, I think universities should be able to use admissions standards to demand a certain level of performance on the part of students and the schools that educate them. On the other hand, I don’t think that admissions standards should be used to promote "ideology," especially masquerading as neutral knowledge. I’m reluctant to let a judge sort these matters out, because the most interesting and difficult issues are not easily amenable to adjudication. I’m tempted to argue that the university system should find some way of accommodating these students, perhaps requiring science remediation, if in fact all they have learned is some version of young earth creationism. If the Calvary Chapel course already treats both creation and evolution, then I have much less sympathy for the university system, which would then seem to be enforcing a kind of orthodoxy unwilling to permit itself to be challenged. The system probably ought to let the history and government classes count. In other words, the best solution here is for the filing of the complaint to be a prelude to negotiation and conciliation, with the university system finding a way to accommodate this form of "diversity."

Update: This article suggests that the schools teach both evolution and young earth creationism (which is different from intelligent design inasmuch as it’s explicitly biblical), albeit in such a manner as to privilege the latter. Also interesting is this comment:

“If you don’t understand evolution, you don’t understand biology. If you don’t understand biology, you don’t understand modern science,” said Albert F. Bennett, chair of ecology and evolutionary biology at the university’s Irvine campus. “A student ill-versed in science is poorly prepared for university-level work.”

Such students, Bennett said, “will be incapable of understanding or helping to achieve the many benefits of modern biology, such as crop improvement, cancer therapies, and avoidance of antibiotic resistance, that critically depend on evolutionary theory.” As a result, he added, “the university has an obligation to ensure that entering students are properly prepared for a university-level education.”

Taken seriously, and applied to all aspects of university education, it would have the effect, not only of raising standards in such a way as to make it difficult for many incoming students to meet them (a good thing if they could rise to the challenge), but also of posing in a serious way the question of what a generally or liberally educated person needs to know. I wonder how many UC faculty really want to open that can of worms, especially in a very public manner, since it would seem to play into the hands of the
E.D. Hirsches and William Bennetts of the world.

Update #2: Here, via Religion Clause, is the complaint (107 page [!!] pdf).

Discussions - 9 Comments


I think this issue becomes more complicated because the admission standards are part of a State university system. I assume all provisions of the Constitution apply whenever State Universities make rules, set admission standards, etc. It would seem an easy argument that any State admission standard which discriminates against religion is probably unconstitutional, but this is just a hunch.

Ohio State had a nondiscrimination policy concerning student groups but quickly exempted religious groups from this policy when the Christian Law School student group brought a law suit in federal court on 1st amendment grounds.

There are advantages to being State run and funded. Large funding, more prestige because of that funding, etc. There are also disadvantages, one cannot violate the constitution’s protections (see VMI). This seems fair. If students wish to attend a college with a certain atmosphere they may always go to a private school.

But after Smith, a neutral policy that happens to burden religious exercise would not be likely to be held unconstitutional. And if the courts are willing to defer to a university’s interest in the educational value of "diversity" in upholding affirmative action, I have a hard time thinking they wouldn’t be deferential to a university’s science admission requirement.

I agree with Joe...this is an opportunity to compromise. If remediation in the principles of science and evolution are needed, then that should be provided. Outright rejection of these courses sends the wrong signal and makes the university look dogmatic (although universities may indeed be dogmatic, such a stance is neither scientific nor enlightened).

I was very discouraged to see that part of the reason their not accepting some of the courses is that they use books from Bob Jones University Press. Once again, as a Christian I feel that I’m coming under attack. How are students supposed to understand how science works if they don’t know what the Creator has done and what He intended? Maybe Gonzalez should investigate UC? California - it figures does’nt it?

I’m assuming that the students in this case are white? That’s probably a factor in Berkeley’s attitude . . . what would really be interesting to see would be a case involving a black (or other favored-minority) student coming from a secondary-school background that suggested a negative attitude toward evolution. Does anybody know if there’s any opinion data on whether blacks believe in evolution, whether black churches have strong views about it, and so on? Or is it just an issue that black churches and Christians have historically never been intensely involved with, whatever their views about biblical literalism and so forth?

Blacks studying course materials from Bob Jones University Press - from a school that until very recently had the racist policy of banning interracial dating. That would be odd, to say the least!

Kelly--I hold no brief for Bob Jones U’s dating policies, but by your logic the idea of blacks studying Darwin as an authoritative thinker might also be thought odd, given Darwin’s own somewhat problematic views on race (views that even his supporters admit would qualify him as a racist today).

But enough of Bob Jones and Charles Darwin. After I suggested my speculative counterfactual, I asked a quite sincere factual question: Presumably there are anti-Darwinist publishers and organizations out there that aren’t connected with Bob Jones U, and presumably black Christian believers, institutions, and pastors could get hold of their materials if they wanted to, so the question remains: How do you suppose UC-Berkeley would react to a black kid who applied with apparently anti-Darwinian biology courses [whether Bob Jones U-related or not] on his or her high-school transcript?

CORRECTION: After the phrase "quite sincere factual question:" in my last post should have appeared this passage:

"Can anyone point to evidence of what black American Christians think about evolution, and to what extent they are active regarding the question?"

There is nothing complicated about this. The liberal Establishment is using its power to exclude young people who grew up outside its orbit from society’s prestigious institutions.

The lawsuit, whatever its legal merits, deserves the complete support of non-liberal Americans. We must make the Establishment pay as high a price as possible, in money, energy, and public confidence, for its arrogance -- which will get worse before it gets better.

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