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.