29 August 2005

Still more on the California creationist lawsuit

Someone named Emma kindly provided a couple of links to PDF files relevant to the California creationist lawsuit. One of the links is to a propaganda piece written by the Association of Christian Schools International, which is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. The second link is to a copy of the actual complaint that has been filed in the case.

The ACSI propaganda flyer is an interesting read, but I'm not going to take the time to criticise it at present. Instead, I'm going to begin by looking at the complaint, which should contain the real meat of the suit. The complaint is over one hundred pages in length, and I have found material that I'd like to comment on very early in the complaint. Since both my time and my tolerance for this type of thing are limited, it will probably take several posts over several days for me to wade through everything.

The text of the complaint begins on page two:
Plaintiffs state this complaint against defendants, for viewpoint discrimination and
content discrimination by defendants toward Christian school instruction and texts,
which violates the constitutional rights of Christian schools and students to freedom of speech, freedom from viewpoint discrimination, freedom of religion and association, freedom from arbitrary governmental discretion, equal protection of the laws, and freedom from hostility toward religion. This court has jurisdiction of this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, as this action is brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as 28 U.S.C. § 2201.
Let's look at the beginning of that again:
Plaintiffs state this complaint against defendants, for viewpoint discrimination and
content discrimination by defendants toward Christian school instruction and texts,
"Content discrimination". What a wonderful phrase. It makes it sound like there is somehow something wrong with evaluating the worth of courses based on the material that is being taught. I wonder what comes after this. The next step doesn't even need to be from one of these creationist groups. Instead, it could be a homeopath suing a state medical board for a license on the grounds that the state board exams constitute an unfair "content discrimination" favoring conventional medicine over the spiritual doctrines of homeopathy. After that, let's go ahead and license the bloodletters and spiritual healers.

Let's get one thing straight right from the start. The University of California absolutely discriminated against the content contained in those textbooks, and that is a good thing. It means that they decided to actually make sure that classes claiming to teach, for example, biology actually teach biology. Based on what I've seen of the Bob Jones "biology" curriculum, the Christian School courses in question do not teach Biology. They certainly, and by their own admission, do not put science first. Call me crazy, call me biased, call me anti-Christian if you want, but I think that the main book used in a science class should put science first. I'm just strange like that.

M. T. is a rising senior, suing through parent T. TAYLOR, whose SAT I
scores and, on information and belief, SAT Reasoning Test scores would otherwise
qualify for admission, but (i) who is discriminated against and excluded from University of California and California State University institutions because some courses at Calvary Christian School are disqualified from approval as a-g curriculum because of the Christian viewpoint added to standard subject matter presentation in those courses and their texts,
That's a very interesting perspective. It's not one that has much of a basis in reality, but it's interesting nonetheless. While I cannot speak to the situation with any of the other questioned courses, the problem with the biology text is that it does not, in fact, teach the "standard subject matter presentation". Further, the "Christian viewpoint" is not an addition to the text, it is the main focus of the text. If you scan down my earlier post again, you will find this quote from the Bob Jones University Press textbook:
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.
Although the authors should, perhaps, be complimented for their forthrightness, a science textbook that puts a particular interpretation of Christianity before the science does not exactly constitute "standard subject matter" with a dash of Christianity added for flavor. It is, instead, apologetics trying to hide in a lab coat.

You will also find this:
God created humans and all of the other kinds of organisms with the ability to reproduce after their own kind (Gen. 1:12, 21, 25, 28); therefore, humans reproduce humans, oak trees reproduce oak trees, and cats reproduce cats. The idea of all life forms descending from a common ancestor cell that originated from non-living chemicals is absurd.
"Evolution is absurd" is hardly "standard subject matter" for a secondary school biology textbook. Nor, for that matter, are in-line references to bible verses.

As I have said before, and will undoubtedly say again, Colleges and Universities have the right to set criteria for incoming students. They also have, or should have, the right to examine the curricula, grading systems, textbooks, and other components of required courses in order to ensure that they in fact meet the criteria. If institutions of higher learning do not have this right, then they might as well not have admission criteria, as there will be no way to enforce them.

If the schools in question want to keep teaching biology the way that they have been, then that is their right. It is their private school, and they can take the actions that they see fit when it comes to setting up their classes. But actions have consequences, and one of the consequences is that colleges might not accept these courses as constituting adequate preparation. If parents decide not to enroll their children in a school that does not adequately prepare its students for higher education, and the school financially suffers as a result, that, too, is a consequence.

The plaintiffs in this suit are not asking to be protected from discrimination; they are asking to have their cake and eat it too. They want the religious freedom to teach whatever they want, but then they want to be protected from the consequences of not having taught what colleges want their students to know. Unfortunately for them, the right to escape the unpleasant consequences of your actions is not a civil right.
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