Disputes between religious groups and state public school and university educational boards on the legitimacy of their teachings may be opening a new front of the “culture wars.”
The most heated battle is between the University of California and the Association of Christian Schools, the largest organization of Christian schools in the U.S. The association sued the university for religious bias when the UC rejected Christian texts and courses of one of its schools for failing to meet freshmen admission requirements by integrating faith perspectives into science and humanities teachings. Unlike court cases over creationism and intelligent design, the case “sets competing interpretations of academic merit against each other,” writes Mike Weiss in the San Francisco Chronicle (Dec. 12).
The association and its co-plaintiff, Calvary Chapel Christian School in Riverside, argue that government officials are dictating and censoring which viewpoints may or may not be taught. The university counters that the case has little to do with religious or academic freedom and that it has the right to determine the academic suitability of courses and texts.
The case is the first lawsuit to question the university’s discretion to establish courses required of all students seeking admission, and many critics see it as a way for conservative Christian legal activists to open a new front for advancing their agenda in the public square. Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center says the “university is in a way firing a shot over the bow, saying to Christian schools that they may have gotten away with this in the past, but no more. And that will have a chilling effect across the country.”
Meanwhile, Hindus in California have been involved in their own battle over textbooks with the State Board of Education Curriculum Commission.Hindu Press International news service (Dec. 4) reports that Hindu groups had objected to sections of California textbooks that dealt with India and Hinduism. Hindu critics made 170 revisions of the texts, many of which were challenged by a review board that claimed that the changes were motivated by the forces of the Hindu right, or Hindutva, to exert their influences in education.
Most of the objections to the corrections had to do with sections in texts espousing an “Aryan invasion” of India in ancient times. Hindus also objected to statements in the texts saying that they worship “gods” rather than manifestations of one God. In a December hearing, most of the objections to the changes were overruled Although Jewish and Muslim text protests were also heard, the Hindu case is significant since Hindu activists have increasingly charged that academic scholars are misrepresenting their religion.