Censorship in Texas: Fighting Academic and Religious Discrimination

"Stop the presses!" That was one of the effects of the decision of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) in Austin, Texas, on April 24, 2008, when the Institute for Creation Research Graduate School (ICRGS) was told that it could not move its 27-year-old Master of Science program to Texas, nor could it recruit students from Texas to apply to its California graduate school. Why? Because ICRGS does not teach science from an evolution-only viewpoint.

Dr. Raymund Paredes, in his official capacity as Texas Commissioner of Higher Education, has assumed and officially favored his personal viewpoint that the Big Bang was an "astonishing event" that "was initiated some 14 billion years ago,"1 and imposed that personally-held belief on a private school. No eyewitness or forensic evidence was presented by Dr. Paredes last April to support his assumption; he relied only on his ardent belief in this theory that is professed by some scientists, but not all.

As a result, college-level science education in Texas is now muzzled by Texas governmental censorship, a situation that interferes with both academic freedom, the right of a school to teach any subject from its own institutional viewpoint; and interstate commerce, the right of a school outside Texas to recruit and teach Texas residents.

Many Acts & Facts readers will recall a similar controversy in California 19 years ago. ICR sought due process in response to political persecution from a California education official named Bill Honig.

In April 1990, the Institute for Creation Research filed suit in federal court against the California Department of Education, which has denied the ICR Graduate School of Science approval to operate, in effect closing it. This suit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Diego, also names Bill Honig, California Superintendent of Public Instruction, and his aides as defendants, alleging that ICR's rights to freedom of speech and religion, as well as academic freedom, have been abridged.2

That legal controversy resulted in a victory for ICR's graduate school--and for academic freedom.3

Now a similar controversy in Texas hinges on whether a private graduate school is allowed to call its privately-funded Science Education program "science," while simultaneously declaring its viewpoint that Darwin was wrong.

Déjà vu all over again? In many ways, it is. This adversarial arena is "conservative" Texas, not "liberal" California, but the controversy itself is the same: whether private institutions are allowed the academic freedom to teach science--or any subject--according to a biblical Christian viewpoint.

Of course, the controversy is not unique to ICR's graduate school. Scientists and professors who are Christians, and even non-Christian academics, continue to face persecution from science censors. Ben Stein's Expelled documentary in 2008 clearly demonstrated that even highly-qualified scientists in secular institutions are facing various forms of expulsion simply because they question "recognized" Darwinian beliefs and the tenets of evolutionary science.4

THECB Commissioner Raymund Paredes insists that the 27-year-old Master of Science program at ICRGS cannot possibly be "science" because its professors hold a biblical Christian viewpoint about the origin of the universe and the origin of life on earth. Call it something other than science, he and his board members suggested, and ICR can move its school to Texas.

I still remember from my boyhood the days of racial segregation in America, and walking past public bathroom doors labeled "Men," "Women," and "Colored." Discrimination was ugly then, and discrimination is just as ugly today.

ICRGS is now the victim of academic (and religious) viewpoint discrimination in the Lone Star State. And because this government-mandated viewpoint ban is now enforced against the content of ICR's school catalog within the state, this viewpoint discrimination includes censorship-stifling freedom of the press.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court has labeled this kind of viewpoint discrimination as especially detrimental in postsecondary educational contexts:

It is axiomatic that the government may not regulate speech based on its substantive content or the message it conveys....Other principles follow from this precept. In the realm of private speech or expression, government regulation may not favor one speaker over another.…Discrimination against speech because of its message is presumed to be unconstitutional.…These rules informed our determination that the government offends the First Amendment when it imposes financial burdens on certain speakers based on the content of their expression.…When the government targets not subject matter, but particular views taken by speakers on a subject, the violation of the First Amendment is all the more blatant.…Viewpoint discrimination is thus an egregious form of content discrimination. The government must abstain from regulating speech when the specific motivating ideology or the opinion or perspective of the speaker is the rationale for the restriction.…Vital First Amendment speech principles are at stake here. The first danger to liberty lies in granting the State the power to examine publications to determine whether or not they are based on some ultimate idea and, if so, for the State to classify them. The second, and corollary, danger is to speech from the chilling of individual thought and expression. That danger is especially real in the University setting, where the State acts against a background and tradition of thought and experiment that is at the center of our intellectual and philosophic tradition.5 (emphasis added)

"Unconstitutional," "violation," "egregious," and "danger" are the words the U.S. Supreme Court has used to describe the type of discrimination now imposed upon the ICR Graduate School by the THECB. And that's why ICR is now seeking due process at both the state and federal levels.

For perspective, consider the legal crisis faced by the Jewish leader Zerubbabel during a time in history documented in the Old Testament book of Ezra (chapters 4-6).

Zerubbabel undertook a project for God in Jerusalem with the approval and support of King Cyrus, ruler of the Persian Empire. The immediate task (which presupposed Jewish hearts returning to God) involved repatriating Jewish exiles and leading them in rebuilding the Temple.

But opposition to this noble project arose from adversaries (4:1-3) who claimed that the Temple reconstruction must be prevented for the public good, to prevent social instability that would occur if the Jews were allowed the freedom to continue living and worshiping in Jerusalem (4:4-16). And, for a time, the enemies of the Jewish people got what they wanted, and the Temple project was forcibly halted (4:17-23). For an agonizingly long time, the Temple remained unfinished (4:24), until a form of legal due process provided justice for Zerubbabel and the Jews (5:6-17; 6:1-5).

Will ICR achieve the same type of victory against the THECB? The laws of the United States and of Texas are there to allow it, and the courts have ruled against the THECB in the recent past when it overstepped its authority against three other Christian schools.6 But as it was with Zerubbabel, only God can give the outcome He deems best for ICR and for its school. And ICR will honor Him regardless of what that outcome is (Daniel 3:16-18).

Expect to see more about ICR in the news as we seek justice. Now is a good time to pray for ICRGS, for due process, and especially for the God-ordained leaders involved in applying the law to the facts that are placed before them (Romans 13:1-7).

References

  1. Paredes, R. A. Commissioner's Recommendation on the Request by the Institute for Creation Research for a Certificate of Authority to Offer a Master of Science Degree in Science Education, April 23, 2008. Accessed on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board website April 7, 2009.
  2. Morris, H. M. and M. Looy. 1990. ICR President Defends Quality of ICR Graduate School. Acts & Facts. 19 (8).
  3. ICR Graduate School v. Honig, 758 F.Supp. 1350, 1352-1353, 66 Educ. Law Reptr. 655 (S.D. Calif. 1991).
  4. Stein, B. 2008. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. DVD. Directed by Nathan Frankowski. Premise Media Corporation, L.P. Available at icr.org/store.
  5. Rosenberger v. Rectors & Visitors of the Univ. of Va., 515 U.S. 819, 828-835, 115 S.Ct. 2510, 2516-2520 (1995).
  6. HEB Ministries, Inc. v. THECB, 235 S.W.3d 627 (Tex. 2007) (involving Tyndale Theological Seminary, Southern Bible Institute, and Hispanic Bible Institute).

* Dr. Johnson is Special Counsel at the Institute for Creation Research.

Cite this article: Johnson, J. J. S. 2009. Censorship in Texas: Fighting Academic and Religious Discrimination. Acts & Facts. 38 (5): 18.


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