A coalition of Christian schools has filed a federal lawsuit accusing University of California admissions officials of discrimination for refusing to accept certain high school courses taught from a religious viewpoint.

The suit, filed Thursday in Los Angeles district court by the Association of Christian Schools International and Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, also says UC's policies violate rights of free speech and religion.

The suit says some courses containing Christian views aren't accepted as part of UC's "a through g" requirements, which outline the courses students must take to qualify for admission.

The suit says UC doesn't recognize certain classes, including those that challenge evolutionary theory or others with titles such as "Special Providence: Christianity & the American Republic" and "Christianity and Morality in American Literature," yet allows courses in subjects such as "Armenian Studies," "Latin American Literature" and more.

"Of all the various viewpoints that are permitted, as they should be, that's (Christian) the one they've chosen to single out and treat differently and very unfavorably," said Wendell Bird, an Atlanta-based attorney for the schools association, which represents more than 800 religious schools in California.


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Plaintiffs in the suit include six students in grades 10 through 12 at the Murrieta school who say they will be ineligible for UC because their course work won't be accepted. The suit seeks an injunction against UC's practices.

UC spokeswoman Ravi Poorsina said officials hadn't seen the suit and couldn't address its specifics. Still, she said, the university "has a responsibility" to set course requirements that will prepare students for UC course work. UC serves 208,000 students at 10 campuses, including Berkeley.

"It's not intended to single out any one group or type of school or religious belief," Poorsina said.

UC reviews proposals each year from public and private high schools seeking to add courses, she said, and ultimately approves about 85 percent, adding that others may be approved after additional work.

"There are many courses that have religious undertones or represent the religious side of things that are approved," Poorsina said. "I don't know about these specific courses (in the lawsuit), but it's not cut and dry."

Robert John Russell, professor of theology and science at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, said universities are within their rights to set standards for the course work they'll accept.

Religious belief can cloud the debate, but the ultimate decision comes down to whether a student has received quality instruction, Russell said. A student who received "poor" instruction in biology — say with old textbooks — would not meet the same standards as a student who receIved rigorous instruction.

Russell argues that creationism is a theological debate rather than scientific instruction.

"It's almost ludicrous anyone would even take this seriously," Russell said. "It seems absurd that a student who had poor biology would meet the same standards as a student with 'good' biology. ...This has nothing to do with First Amendment rights."

Bird said UC's policies are interfering with schools' and parents' rights to teach according to their beliefs. The policy has implications for curricula at other private schools, he said.

"Something that discriminates against or penalizes one religious faith is so easily extended to penalize others," Bird said.

"In our view, we're fighting for their right as much as the right of our Christian schools."

Contact Michelle Maitre at mmaitre@angnewspapers.com.