Larry Becker, on behalf of La Sierra University, has responded (see attached document below) to questions concerning LSU’s acceptance, in 2008, of a California State bond for $25 million dollars with prohibitive language that seems to limit LSU’s ability to use its science buildings to actively promote the Seventh-day Adventist position on origins – such as a literal 6-day creation week in recent history (Link).
Becker explains, in bold font:
Accepting bond financing does not preclude La Sierra faculty from teaching their disciplines from a strongly Adventist perspective and viewpoint…
He goes on to explain:
The California Supreme Court… held that a school only needs to establish that “…the academic content of its secular classes is typical of comparable courses at public or other nonreligious schools.” Once that is established, a teacher may “express an idea or viewpoint that may be characterized as ‘religious.'”…
“The university can teach in the Price Science Center the Adventist belief in creation as an explanation for origins of earth and life as long as other alternative explanations of origins with claimed supporting evidence are also presented,” says Hansen…
“This bond funding proposal moved through all appropriate channels,” says Ricardo Graham, Board Chair.
At this point the question should be asked as to how a class on the origin and/or diversity of life on this planet can be defined as “secular” from the Adventist perspective? We aren’t talking about a class on volleyball, calculus or particle physics here. We are talking about a concept that the Adventist Church considers uniquely fundamental to its very identity. Yet, LSU signed a document that states (Exhibit B; listed below):
The information and coursework used to teach secular subjects is neutral with respect to religion and neither promotes nor opposes any particular religion or religion in general, and the academic content of classes in secular subjects is typical of that provided in nonreligious institutions for higher education.
While it is great to hear that our own professors are allowed to actually explain the Adventist position on origins despite such language, at the mercy of the California Supreme Court, it seems difficult to understand this situation as ideal if our own science teachers are required to teach in a manner “typical of comparable courses at public or other nonreligious schools” – on the non-secular topic of origins? After all, the statement signed by LSU in order to apply for the bond to begin with (Exhibit B; listed below) restates the same idea to make it even more emphatically clear:
I acknowledge that in connection with the financing requested… that no bond proceeds will be used to finance any facility, place, or building used to finance any class that includes instruction information or coursework that promotes or opposes a particular religion or religious beliefs, in each case through the useful life of the facility, place or building.
The very same thing is true of the language of the 2007 decision of California’s Supreme Court (cited by Hansen above; and attached as a complete document below):
“We are mindful of the concern that a school with a religious perspective may use the facilities built or improved with the revenue bond proceeds to substantially further its religious mission. Such use would provide more than an incidental benefit to religion, in violation of the principles we enunciated in Priest, supra, 12 Cal.3d 593, 116 Cal.Rptr. 361, 526 P.2d 513. To ensure that the classes in secular subjects promote the state’s interest in secular education and no more than incidentally benefit religion, the religious school must meet a second requirement: the information and coursework used to teach secular subjects must be neutral with respect to religion. Of course, religion may be an object of study in classes such as history, social studies, and literature, just as in public schools, in a manner that neither promotes nor opposes any particular religion or religion in general. But a class that includes as part of the instruction information or coursework that promotes or opposes a particular religion or religious beliefs may not be taught in facilities financed through tax exempt bond financing. On remand, in determining religious neutrality, the straightforward assessment for the trial court to make is whether the academic content of a religious school’s course in a secular subject such as math, chemistry, or Shakespeare’s writings is typical of that provided in nonreligious schools. When a school establishes, through its course descriptions or otherwise, that the academic content of its secular classes is typical of comparable courses at public or other nonreligious schools, it is not necessary to scrutinize the school’s day-to-day classroom communications. The circumstance that a teacher may, in addition to teaching a course’s religiously neutral content, express an idea or viewpoint that may be characterized as “religious” does not result in a benefit to religion that is more than incidental to the state’s primary purpose of enhancing secular education opportunities for California residents (Link). [emphasis added]
In light of what seems like very limiting language in the bond and bond application, as well as the 2007 decision of the Supreme Court of California, let’s consider a hypothetical scenario. Let’s say a science professor at LSU wished to promote empirical evidence for the Adventist position on origins in a manner suggesting rational superiority to the neo-Darwinist position. Would such an effort not be a clear violation of “Prohibited Use” language of the bond agreement? – as well as a violation of the ruling of California’s Supreme Court on this topic?
For example, consider that the General Conference Executive Committee at the 2004 Annual Council asked all professors in SDA schools to present a “scientifically rigorous” defense of the SDA perspective on origins in all classrooms:
“We call on all boards and educators at Seventh-day Adventist institutions at all levels to continue upholding and advocating the church’s position on origins. We, along with Seventh-day Adventist parents, expect students to receive a thorough, balanced, and scientifically rigorous exposure to and affirmation of our historic belief in a literal, recent six-day creation, even as they are educated to understand and assess competing philosophies of origins that dominate scientific discussion in the contemporary world.”
Would such a request, asked of all science professors, be in violation of the bond agreement signed by LSU? – as well as a violation of California’s Supreme Court decision regarding similar cases?
Of course, LSU’s lawyer, Mr. Hansen, claims that as long as the neo-Darwinian perspective is presented as it would be presented in any secular classroom, then additional evidence favoring the Adventist position may also be presented… even if it is presented in such a manner that suggests that the weight of empirical evidence actually opposes the neo-Darwinian position and favors the Adventist position on origins? How would this be remotely consistent with the wording of either the bond agreement or that of California’s Supreme Court ruling?
It would be great if Hansen’s suggestion were actually true (though even this level of promotion has yet to be generally achieved by LSU in classrooms of science or religion). However, the language of the Bond agreement does not seem to allow for this scenario – and neither does the language from the 2007 decision of California’s Supreme Court. It just seems like a bad idea to sign onto any agreement where there is any such language of any kind that even appears to restrict the liberty of our professors to actively promote the Adventist position on any issue in any classroom over and above the opposing notions of secular society that are taught in public schools.
Of course, the neo-Darwinist position should be explained to our students in our schools. Our young people should be very well versed on the arguments from the mainstream secular perspective. However, our students should also be taught, by professors who actually believe in and support the Adventist perspective, that there are very good scientific reasons, even the weight of empirical evidence, in support of the Biblical view of origins as historically held and taught by the Adventist Church. Unfortunately, it seems that La Sierra University has severely limited our ability to present this evidence for our faith to our own students in our own schools.
La Sierra Bond Response