A federal judge in San Diego has awarded a Christian graduate school $225,000 to settle a 1990 lawsuit which claimed that state education officials violated the school's constitutional rights when they sought to strip it of its license to grant master of science degrees.
The Institute for Creation Research hailed Judge Rudi M. Brewster's Jan. 29 decision as a reaffirmation of the rights of private schools to hold and teach their own religious perspective.
"As educators we have the freedom to teach and think as we choose, rather than being forced to agree with Bill Honig's politically correct view," said John Morris, vice president of administration for the Santee-based school. "We feel in America we have the constitutional freedom as a Christian school to teach from a Christian perspective."
But state education officials denied that the declaratory judgment was a defeat for the state, saying that the safeguards awarded the school are moot because the state Department of Education is no longer involved in regulating it.
A new 15-member state council, established by the Legislature last year, has until January of 1995 to evaluate the institute, where 20 students are enrolled, and the state's other private post-secondary schools. Its decision will probably resolve the controversy surrounding the institute's course content and will determine whether the school meets statutory requirements regarding curriculum and programs.
"I would characterize the decision as still leaving in doubt for any student there (at ICR) the value of the degree that they would get from that institution," said Susie Lange, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education. "The real issue of their degree granting ability is yet to be dealt with and that will be dealt with by the new council."
Bill Honig, superintendent of public instruction, had maintained that the creationist institute--which teaches, among other things, that the theory of evolution is a myth--is a religious school, not a scientific one.
Based on a recommendation from a state Board of Education evaluation team, Honig sought in March, 1990 to revoke the institute's license to operate because, he said, its physics, biology, geology and science education curriculum was not as rigorous as other comparable degree-granting institutions.
Honig backed down in November, citing a technical flaw in the department's evaluation criteria. He promised no further action would be taken against the institute until January, 1991, when a new 15-member state council took over the task of evaluating post-secondary schools like ICR.
But ICR officials had already filed the suit against Honig, Jeanne Bird, acting director of the state's Private Postsecondary Education Division, and Joseph Barankin, an assistant to Honig and who was director of the state's Private Postsecondary Education Division when the suit was filed in April, 1990.
While neither party would discuss the details of the financial settlement, ICR Vice President John Morris said his school spent about $250,000 in legal fees over the course of the lawsuit.