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UC Loses Bid to Stop Christian School Suit

A federal judge rules that the case alleging that admissions rules violate student freedoms can proceed to trial.

August 09, 2006|Rebecca Trounson | Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles federal judge said Tuesday that he would allow a discrimination lawsuit filed against the University of California by a small Christian school in Riverside County to proceed.

Acting in a case that is being closely tracked by educators and free speech advocates nationwide, U.S. District Judge S. James Otero rejected UC's effort to dismiss several major allegations in the suit and allowed it to move forward. The written order followed a tentative ruling in the case in June.

The plaintiffs -- Calvary Chapel Christian School of Murrieta, several of its students and a group representing 4,000 Christian schools nationwide -- filed suit last summer accusing UC of discriminating against them by setting admissions rules that violate their freedom of speech and religion.

The plaintiffs allege that UC is biased in its admissions standards against courses taught from a conservative Christian viewpoint, while generally approving those from other religious and political perspectives.

The university has denied the allegations, saying that schools are free to teach what they wish but that UC must be able to reject high school courses that do not meet its standards or that provide more religious than academic content.

Christian educators and higher education officials have said the case could affect admissions policies across the country.

In a 25-page ruling, Otero granted limited relief to the university, dismissing the lawsuit's allegations against several UC administrators in their individual capacities, among others. But he said he would allow Calvary Christian and the other plaintiffs to pursue their key claims against the public university system on the basis of constitutional protections to freedom of speech, association and religion.

"It is evident that the plaintiffs have alleged sufficient facts to state a claim for violation of the freedom of speech in the forms of content-based regulation and viewpoint discrimination," the judge wrote.

Otero also said the schools had shown, at least for purposes of allowing the suit to proceed, that they had been required to choose between teaching courses that promoted their religious views and complying with UC's requirements.

Attorney Robert H. Tyler, who represents the Murrieta school, said Tuesday that he was happy with the judge's decision.

"This allows the vast majority of our claims to proceed to trial," he said. "We're very pleased, because the substance of our case, which includes all of our federal constitutional claims, will go forward."

UC counsel Christopher M. Patti said he had not had a chance to read the order, which was issued late Tuesday afternoon, but was not surprised, based on the tentative ruling.

"Now we'll get into the facts phase of the case, and we believe the facts support our position: that we haven't discriminated against Christian schools or students and that the students' rights have not been violated," he said.

The attorneys have said they expect the case to go to trial within a year.

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