Appeals Court Affirms UC’s Right to Reject Insufficient Curricula From Religious Schools

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This week, a decision was handed down from an appeals court in California regarding a challenge from some religious high schools that the University of California was discriminating by not accepting their curricula. The Inside Higher Ed Quick Take mentions that some of the schools do not believe in evolution, among other issues. The decision (PDF) affirms that the university was exercising appropriate academic judgment. Here are some excerpts from the decision (citations omitted and emphasis added):

The Supreme Court has rejected heightened scrutiny where, as here, the government provides a public service that, by its nature, requires evaluations of and distinctions based on the content of speech. . . . As a university, one of UC’s “essential freedoms” is to “determine for itself on academic grounds . . . who may be admitted to study.” . . . UC exercises that freedom by reviewing high school courses to ensure that they adequately prepare incoming students for the rigors of academic study at UC.

Watching the Prop 8 trial this week, I think it’s interesting to see these plaintiffs trying to abuse heightened scrutiny to maintain their victim status. People tend to forget that religion can be considered a suspect class, even though it is by no means immutable!

The plaintiffs devote much of their appeal to arguing that UC’s policy on religion and ethics courses constitutes viewpoint discrimination. This policy provides that in order to receive UC approval, religion and ethics courses should “treat the study of religion or ethics from the standpoint of scholarly inquiry, rather than in a manner limited to one denomination or viewpoint.” Aside from pointing out that UC’s policy includes the word “viewpoint,” the plaintiffs fail to allege facts showing that this policy is discriminatory in any way. It is not. As UC’s expert explained, UC’s policy is necessary because the “academic study of religion is multidisciplinary in nature” and “[p]rivileging one tradition or point of view is considered unacceptable and counter-productive in the scholarly study of religion at UC and similar colleges and universities.”

I think this is a profound point. I have often written that I think religiously-affiliated universities compromise the quality of higher education. Here we see a prominent university system making a clear point that it is not acceptable or productive to study religion from only one point of view. On this point, I’m sure UC would not consider religiously-affiliated universities “similar,” given the fact they construct their entire academic programs around singular religious viewpoints.

I wish the decision offered more detail about the curricula that were rejected, but this quote at least offers some clues:

UC’s rejection letters and internal meetingcnotes demonstrate that UC denied approval not because the courses added a religious viewpoint, but because they were either not college preparatory, lacked necessary course information or materials, or had other procedural defects which Calvary never bothered to cure.

From a student affairs point of view, it’s worth noting that this suit was put forth by (helicopter) parents of students who were rejected because of their secondary education. (If you read the full argument, it’s actually amusing how pathetic their arguments were; the way the decision is written, it almost sounds like the judges felt the plaintiffs were wasting their time.) I surely hope that these concerned parents instead consider suing Cavalry and the other schools for providing a neglectful education that did not properly prepare their students for college.

Why do I have a feeling that won’t happen? In fact, why do I have a feeling these parents have absolutely no regrets about the closed-minded education they paid for their children to have the “privilege” of receiving?

Hopefully, we continue to have more conversations about educational standards and the way religious viewpoints or religiously-motivated control of curricular standards compromise the integrity of education received.

We need people who are willing to stand up and say so. I’m glad the California courts were, but how about more folks in the field?

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