The New York Times reports that Cody Young, an evangelical Christian who attends a religious high school in Southern California, has filed a pre-emptive lawsuit against the University of California, charging that they practice “viewpoint discrimination” and that their admissions standards violate the free speech and religious rights of evangelical Christians because they refuse to certify some of the Christian school’s courses on literature, history, social studies and science.
The university system’s reasons for refusing to certify those particular courses is that the textbooks used in the courses and the curriculums themselves have a specifically Christian viewpoint. Here’s a sample:
In the last year, the board has rejected courses like Christianity’s Influence in American History, Special Provenance: Christianity and the American Republic, Christianity and Morality in American Literature and a biology course using textbooks from the Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Book, conservative Christian publishers.
The officials rejected the science courses because the curriculum differed from “empirical historical knowledge generally accepted in the collegiate community,” the suit said. Calvary was told to submit a secular curriculum instead. Courses in other subjects were rejected because they were called too narrow or biased.
What interests me most about the suit is an argument made by Robert Tyler, a lawyer for Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, CA, where Cody Young is a senior: “What really lights the fire here is when you look at courses the U.C. has approved from other schools. In the titles alone, you can see the discrimination against us.” And he pointed out that the university has approved courses on Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and gender and counterculture’s effects on literature.
I’m in favor of teaching courses on all those things, and on Christianity as well, at all levels. But I think that courses in religion must be taught in the same spirit of rationality and open inquiry as are courses in other subjects, like history, sociology, and science. Here’s an illuminating quote from John Dewey, probably the most profound thinker about education that this country has produced:
It is pertinent to point out that, as long as religion is conceived as it is now by the great majority of professed religionists, there is something self-contradictory in speaking of education in religion in the same sense in which we speak of education in topics where the method of free inquiry has made its way. The “religious” would be the last to be willing that either the history or the content of religion should be taught in this spirit; while those to whom the scientific standpoint is not merely a technical device, but is the embodiment of the integrity of mind, must protest against its being taught in any other spirit.
John Dewey, “Democracy in the Schools”, 1908
So let’s accept a course on Islam, as long as that course permits teacher and student to introduce viewpoints questioning the Prophet’s sanity or his womanizing; let the course on Christianity use materials from the Jesus Seminar, and require the students to read passages from Bertrand Russell (and from Dewey himself) that question the rationality, morality, and historical truth of Christian beliefs. Let the universities certifying those courses for their admissions policy focus, not on the subject matter, but on the pedagogy, and accept only those courses that exemplify what Dewey calls the “method of free inquiry” that must characterize all honest search for truth.