Update on the UC-Calvary Lawsuit

One of the first posts on Daylight Atheism, over two years ago, was “The Fallacy of Free Speech“, about a private Christian high school which sued the University of California because the UC had refused to give college credit in biology for courses which taught young-earth creationism. Well, the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slow, but they do eventually turn. Last week, a federal judge issued a preliminary ruling which, while it does not completely prevent the case from going forward, makes it clear that Calvary Chapel Christian School’s odds of winning are exceedingly low. (See also.)

Calvary Chapel filed two different challenges to the UC’s admissions policy. One was a facial challenge, i.e., an assertion that the UC’s admissions policy is intrinsically unconstitutional, no matter how it was applied. The other is an as-applied challenge, meaning that the policy itself may be constitutional but was applied unfairly or in a discriminatory way.

Both sides had asked for summary judgment on the facial challenge, a term that applies when the legal issues are unambiguous and the matter can be decided without any need for further examination. The judge denied Calvary Chapel’s request for summary judgment and granted the UC’s request for summary judgment, finding that the facial challenge is meritless as a matter of law; that challenge is now dead in the water. The UC did not ask for summary judgment on the as-applied challenge, saying that that issue is best settled at trial. So, unless Calvary Chapel withdraws its lawsuit, trial will be the next step. However, the judge’s flat-out rejection of nearly all of Calvary Chapel’s claims indicates that the odds are strongly against them. They’d be very unwise to proceed to a trial they’re almost certain to lose, although so far their effort has shown all the mad tenacity of a group undeterred by reality. As Ed Brayton notes, most of their arguments “are so transparently ridiculous that you can almost hear the judge’s frustration in having to address them over and over again”.

Calvary Chapel’s main argument is that any rejection of any of their courses occurred solely because the UC has a secret policy of discriminating against Christians. (Yes, they actually make this claim, and in very nearly those words.) This argument was annihilated by the judge, who pointed out that UC has “approved many high school courses that include religious material and viewpoints” (including other courses taught by Calvary Chapel), “reviewed and approved some Christian textbooks for use”, and “provide[d] declarations from religious school administrators who have not perceived the discrimination about which Plaintiffs complain”.

Most entertaining of all is the fact that Calvary Chapel brought in Michael Behe as an expert witness. Behe used to be a legitimate scientist, and even at the beginning of his entanglement with ID, stated that he accepted the facts of an old Earth and common descent (see my review of Darwin’s Black Box). He’s fallen far indeed if he’s now reduced to peddling young-earth pseudoscience. Still, as the judge pointed out, his testimony actually supported the claims of the opposite side:

Plaintiffs’ own biology expert, Professor Michael Behe testified that “it is personally abusive and pedagogically damaging to de facto require students to subscribe to an idea . . . . Requiring a student to, effectively, consent to an idea violates [her] personal integrity. Such a wrenching violation [may cause] a terrible educational outcome.”

Yet, the two Christian biology texts at issue commit this “wrenching violation.” For example, Biology for Christian Schools declares on the very first page that:

(1) “‘Whatever the Bible says is so; whatever man says may or may not be so,’ is the only [position] a Christian can take . . . .”

(2) “If [scientific] conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong, no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them.”

(3) “Christians must disregard [scientific hypotheses or theories] that contradict the Bible.”

I know one ID advocate who’s not going to be commanding nearly as high an expert-witness retainer fee next time.

As this excerpt shows, the courses and books used by Calvary Chapel contained a blatant attitude of religious supremacy and demanded subordination of reason, evidence and critical thinking to Christian dogma wherever the two are in conflict. UC was completely in the right to reject them – to do anything less would have been to surrender their academic integrity – and if Calvary Chapel had any common sense rather than mere delusions of persecution, they would not have pursued this case. If they take it to trial, they cannot expect any outcome other than resounding defeat.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Paul S

    While many may think this is just some isolated conservative Christian attempt to get creationism/ID recognized as conventional science, it’s pretty obvious that there is a religiously-backed machination in place whose main goal it is to get this issue into as many courtrooms as they can. Speaking as someone from California (Bakersfield), last year had our local high school board passing a resolution that made “In God We Trust” posters mandatory in every classroom. There was quite a bit of public outcry, but the board ultimately decided to put the posters in the classroom. The only concession was that along with the “In God We Trust” posters, the Declaration of Independence and Constitution will also be mandatory in every classroom.It was my feeling from the start that this attempt by some conservative Christians in our community (one of the members of the board is an evangelical/fundamentalist minister) to perform a sort of “litmus test” to see how the public would react to attempts to insert religion into our high schools. I sincerely believe that the creationism/ID topic is going to be the next item on the agenda. By the way, the Kern High School District is the largest in California with over 35,000 students.

  • http://yetanotheratheistblog.blogspot.com/ YAAB

    Great update. The judge’s comments, along with a host of other evidence (like this which you highlighted last year) lead me to believe that there may be another commandment (perhaps on the tablet that Mel Brooks’ Moses dropped) such as:

    Thou shalt have no sense of irony.

  • Brock

    The Religious Wrong has deep pockets, and will continue to flood the courts with frivolous lawsuits. Win or lose, they win. If they win, they can move on to the next issue in their theocratic agenda, and if they lose, it’s just more proof of how persecuted they are–and they love to be persecuted, it makes them into martyrs, which they take as proof of their dedication to their god. There was a second century bishop (whose name slips my mind), who was shipped off from the eastern part of the empire to be executed in the Colosseum at Rome, and he wrote letters to about a dozen different churches on the way, full of the grisly details of his impending date with the lions. If he had arrived at Rome to a full Imperial pardon, he probably would have sued for the sentence to be carried out. There are Christians in America, who are probably envying the Post-Rapture converts who are going to be tortured and beheaded by the minions of the Antichrist.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    (2) “If [scientific] conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong, no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them.”
    (3) “Christians must disregard [scientific hypotheses or theories] that contradict the Bible.”

    Sweet fucking Loki on a raft. This is in a science book?

    And they accuse atheists of being arrogant and close-minded.

    Excuse me. I have to go find the top of my head, which just blew off. I think it landed on the toaster.

  • OMGF

    Paul S,
    Have you contacted the California ACLU?

    Brock,

    If he had arrived at Rome to a full Imperial pardon, he probably would have sued for the sentence to be carried out.

    Or it would have been seen as god’s triumphant hand coming in to save such a righteous person who persevered in the face of such persecution. No matter what, they always spin it so that they count the hits and ignore the misses.

  • goyo

    As an elementary school teacher living in the buckle of the bible belt here in good ol’ East Texas, I run across this constantly. Every school board meeting and teacher training or conference is opened with prayer. Every morning we have a moment of silence which is introduced by my principal to “thank god for our many blessings”.
    A Dallas radio talk show was talking just this morning about some statistic that said that since prayer in school was removed in ’62, that student’s grades had gradually declined. (I’m driving, and not able to call in and comment).
    I think he said the statistic had come from a pamphlet that a preacher had sent him.
    Paul S is right, I don’t think this is an isolated incident.
    I will say, that I am trying my best to teach my class critical thinking skills, and that our science books do talk about the fossil record and the correct age of the earth. (The word “evolution” is not mentioned, but we study about adaptation of the species. I teach 4th grade.)
    Anyway, it is really frustrating, and if the religious right gets their way, public education will be set back even further. I’ve even heard people say that they regret that the bible is not a textbook, like it used to be in the “good ol’ days”.

  • Ingersoll’s Revenge

    (1) “‘Whatever the Bible says is so; whatever man says may or may not be so,’ is the only [position] a Christian can take . . . .”

    (2) “If [scientific] conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong, no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them.”

    (3) “Christians must disregard [scientific hypotheses or theories] that contradict the Bible.”

    Well, that explains a lot.

    I recently had a conversation with a young girl who is studying to be a biology teacher. The only problem is that she’s a young earth creationist. I had to explain to her – as slowly and as deliberately as I could – that it was ethically unsound for her to have preconceived notions about anything before running an experiment, as it will produce a biased conclusion.

    She accused me of persecuting her beliefs. When I didn’t yield, she said she’d pray for me.

    *SIGH* She has a long way to go if she wants to be a science teacher…

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Brock –

    You need not go back that far to find exemplars of this idiocy from another religion; think of the ecstatic hijackers as they shouted “Allahu akhbar!” during their deaths. Morons.

    Goyo –

    Whereabouts in East Texas? My daddy’s side of the family is from Pittsburg, in Camp County. Me, I’m exiled to SoCal. Anyways, my regards to the Long Pineys.

  • Paul S

    OMGF,

    There were a few people who said they would bring lawsuits if the posters were indeed posted in classrooms. I don’t know what the status of that is.

    I can understand a religious organization wanting to insert God into the classroom. What boggles my mind is when elected school board members actually spend a school district’s money and time on these idiotic issues when there are real educational issues that need to be dealt with.

    Here is the link to the American Family Association. They are the organization that is backing the “In God We Trust” campaign.

    “In God We Trust Poster Campaign!

  • Chris

    Both sides had asked for summary judgment on the facial challenge, a term that applies when the legal issues are unambiguous and the matter can be decided without any need for further examination.

    IANAL, but I don’t think this is right. Summary judgment applies when there are no disputed *factual* issues, and the only issues that exist are issues of law (which includes interpretation of laws, policies and contracts, but only if both sides agree on what the text of the policy/contract is). Page 7 of the opinion states that summary judgment is proper when “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and… the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”

    Thus the cross-motions for summary judgment on the facial claims: the facts of how the policy is carried out are obviously irrelevant to those claims. The policy either is invalid on its face or it isn’t, there’s no need for testimony about its effects or how it is applied. It’s the kind of issue that is practically guaranteed to be resolved at summary judgment.

     
    The fact that the policy isn’t facially invalid doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be found invalid as applied. The court’s apparently approving citations of Kitzmiller and McLean to support its statement that “[A]n informed observer would be aware of the controversial nature of intelligent design and creation as scientific beliefs” is a favorable sign, though. The court appeared to be saying that the plaintiffs will have to prove that UC’s standards have no “rational relation” to their legitimate goals of admitting qualified students.

  • Brock

    The church father I referred to above was “Saint” Ignatius of Antioch.

  • goyo

    Thump: I’m from Tyler, about 40 miles south of Pittsburg. Come and see us sometime; you’ll recognize the city, there’s a southern baptist church on every corner.
    Our county is Smith, the wettest “dry” county in Texas.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I’m expecting to visit sometime in July, Goyo — hopefully. If so, I’ll certainly let ya know.

  • http://www.darwinharmless.com Darwin Harmless

    Just wanted to say thanks for this information. For such a statement to appear in a science textbook… well, it’s the equivalent of “There probably IS no God” inserted into a bible. Now that whould be a fun thing to do. Know anybody who works in a bible factory?