October 8, 2007
Religious Freedom or Religious Sloth?
A story in today's Chicago Tribune illustrates one of the tensions of living in an increasingly secular society. The article, "Religious-based education on trial: Christian high schools sue University of California, alleging bias in admissions," discusses a lawsuit that an association of Christian schools is suing the University of California because "the admissions policy at the university unconstitutionally discriminates against them because they teach from a religious perspective."
More specifically the plaintiffs claim that "UC follows the policy of rejecting any course in any subject, even if it teaches standard content, if it adds teaching of the school's religious viewpoint."
The University denies it, of course: "That statement simply is not true," said Christopher Patti, counsel for UC. "There is no prohibition on religious content in UC a-g courses," he said. "If the course adequately teaches the subject matter and adequately teaches the skills that students need in that subject, then the fact that it may also make reference to other theories doesn't disqualify it, even religious theories."
Without knowing more the details of the case, on the surface it seems like another battle in the culture wars than in cultural confusion.
The University, for example, refused to give credit for a course called, "Course: Special Providence: Christianity and the American Republic," the text of which was "American Government for Christian Schools" (Bob Jones University Press). The reason rejected was that " Content was not consistent with the "empirical historical knowledge generally accepted in the collegiate community."
Now this could indicate that the University has a narrow, Enlightenment understanding of what constitutes history--it may, for example, rule out miracle a priori as an explanation for an event.
Or it could mean that the textbook and class have not prepared students to participate in classes and conversations that will take place in a modern, secular university on the topic of history. A university has the right and obligation to ensure that when students step on campus, they are familiar with terms, theories, and perspectives that constitute the conversation on campus on any given topic.
Christian schools have an obligation not only to teach from a Christian perspective, but to thoroughly immerse their students in the worldview and perspective of the secular university if they expect them to attend there. This strikes me as a reasonable requirement of the university, but a necessary requirement of those who hope to bring Christ's salt and light to academia. If we demonstrate that we have not listened to or thoroughly understood the point of view of those with whom we disagree, why would they ever give our point of view a hearing?