Here is a story from last weekend that I have been thinking about most of the week. The story is not new, but there has been a major development. This is complicated stuff and, it seems to me, reporter Marla Jo Fisher has most of the major voices featured in her report for The Orange County Register.
Here is the opening of the story:
How much Christianity is too much for the University of California?
That's a question being asked these days, in a federal lawsuit that has pitted Christian schools against admissions officials at UC who decide which high school courses are eligible to be college prerequisites.
The issue revolves around decisions by the University of California to reject three Christian-themed courses at a high school in Murrieta and several textbooks by two well-known Christian textbook publishers. The move came in the wake of a 2002 decision by the UC to look more closely at school accreditation and quality issues.
"These textbooks had already been used by many, many schools," said Robert Tyler, attorney for plaintiff Calvary Chapel Christian Schools of Murrieta, along with the Association of Christian Schools International and five students. "It's a fundamental shift. They were acceptable in the years past."
Now, here is the key question and, at this point, there does not seem to be a clear answer. But this is the angle that the newspaper must pursue to nail this story down -- before it heads into higher and higher courts.
In the past, Christian schools have been judged harshly on the basis of what they do not have their students read and the viewpoints to which their students are not exposed. In other words, they fail to cover basic territory that state universities expect students to have covered before admission.
But Fisher does a fine job of pointing out that this may not be the case this time around. There is evidence, this time, that the students are being punished for the Christian concepts and readings that are being included in the classes, not for a failure to cover basic territory.
What we have here is new territory -- maybe. That is what the newspaper has to find out. For example, we have yet another vague use of the "creationism" term. We do not know what the schools are teaching in science classes, whether it's seven-day creationism, a concept of gradual change over time that denies that creation is random and unguided or some other mix of theories. We do not know if the students are reading a wide variety of materials about evolutionary theory, or not. "Creationism" is too vague a word. We need facts.
The goal, in a fine Christian school, is to actually hold debates that you may not be able to hold on a secular campus, to read more points of view -- not less. Note this passage in the story:
Included in the lawsuit and among the courses proposed by Calvary Chapel school in Murrieta and rejected by UC: Christianity's Influence in American History, Special Providence: Christianity and the American Republic and Christianity and Morality in American Literature.
"Unfortunately, this course, while it has an interesting reading list, does not offer a non-biased approach to the subject matter," the rejection letter for the literature class read.
Lawyers for the Christian schools argue that these proposals should not have been rejected when other schools have approved courses such as Western Civilization: The Jewish Experience, and Intro to Buddhism.
Were the reading lists for the classes too weak? Some said that was not the problem. Were the students graduating from the controversial schools academically weak and unprepared? Apparently not.