Aug. 15, 2008 — -- Olivia Del Gavio-Kusich loved her religious classes at California's St. Francis High School, even though they didn't necessarily help her get into college.
When it came time to apply, just two of the Catholic school's eight required courses qualified for college credit in the prestigious University of California state college system.
And while she's OK with that, a coalition of private Christian schools is not and alleges in a lawsuit that UC's crediting policy is a form of religious discrimination.
Del Gavio-Kusich, a bright, college-bound 18-year-old from Belmont, Calif., says most of her core academic classes were rigorous. But other required classes, like Christian Vocations and another that detailed the Catholic church's position on sex education, were "mostly easy" and had "lots of opinion," she said.
"Some of them were a joke, and the textbooks were poorly written," she said.
The UC system -- which includes more than 220,000 students on 10 publicly funded campuses, considered some of the most competitive in the nation -- has historically agreed with Del Gavio-Kusich that many religious courses, especially those that declare the Bible infallible and reject evolution, do not meet academic muster.
"My religious courses never required much research and are taught by teachers who have their own beliefs," said Del Gavio-Kusich. "You get a religious point of view."
But a group of private Christian high schools and students is challenging UC, saying in a lawsuit that it practices religious discrimination by not accrediting many God-centric courses. They argue that secularism is also a belief and that religious students are judged unfairly.
"We have clear evidence of bias in the UC state system," said Robert Tyler, legal counsel for Advocates for Faith and Freedom, a nonprofit law firm dedicated to protecting religious liberty in the courts and spreading the Christian word that "society is increasingly devoid of the message and influence of God."
"These students are treated like second-class citizens for their beliefs," he told ABCNews.com.
The lawsuit -- Association of Christian Schools International vs. Stearns -- was originally filed in 2005 and challenges the university system's approval process for college preparatory courses, known as a-g requirements.
But last week, U.S. District Judge James Otero of Los Angeles dismissed the suit, ruling that UC's review committees cited legitimate reasons for rejecting four texts at the Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murrieta, Calif., not because they contained religious viewpoints, but because they omitted important topics in science and history and did not encourage "critical thinking skills."
In a previous ruling in March, Otero found no anti-religious bias in the state university system.
"We are very pleased with Judge Otero's decision," said Wyatt R. Hume, UC provost and executive vice president for academic and health affairs, in a prepared release after the dismissal was announced. "The University welcomes students of all religious faiths and recognizes that a diversity of educational backgrounds among our students, including religious education, enriches the UC community and the academic experience."
Soon after the dismissal was announced, the association of 700 mostly Protestant religious schools appealed Otero's decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
UC maintains it evaluates courses based on their academic merits, regardless of a high school's religious affiliation. Their legal experts say there is "essentially no difference" between the course approval rate for religious and secular schools.
But Faith and Freedom's Tyler disagrees. "Professors have been essentially expelled from universities -- blackballed -- because they might teach or believe in intelligent design or do not buy into everything about evolution," he told ABCNews.com. "That's what the UC school system has done."
An intensifying scrutiny of religious curricula is a "trend," according to Tyler. "This is going on across state and across religious lines," he said. "We are fighting this because it's about the future of private, religious education."
He also argues that three of the four rejected courses at Calvary Chapel fall into opinion-laden disciplines, like history, government and English literature. He said paperwork he received from UC said those courses were rejected because they were not "consistent with empirical historical knowledge accepted by the collegiate community."
"That doesn't make any sense," said Tyler. "The word 'empirical' is a scientific term of testing to determine the science. Well, you can't test history to see what was after it happened. What they are doing is throwing out the standard language, saying we don't like or agree with what you are teaching."
According to Tyler, the UC board also determined that the content in the course Christianity and the American Republic was "not consistent with [the UC's] viewpoint and knowledge generally accepted."
"They articulate the fact that they don't like our viewpoint," Tyler said.
Tyler said UC determined another English course titled Christianity and Morality in American Literature "does not offer a nonbiased approach to the subject matter."
"They are telling Christian schools they have to teach with an unbiased perspective," he said. He cited comparable college English courses that offer bias in feminism and multicultural topics.
A UC spokesman did not address Tyler's claims about specific courses, but argued the university system is not telling Christian schools what to teach but rather setting universal admissions standards that apply to all schools -- both religious and public.
According to Christopher Patti, legal counsel for the UC system, 43 of Calvary Chapel's college prep courses were approved by UC, a rate comparable to the course lists submitted by other schools.
"UC welcomes students from a wide range of academic settings," according to a statement from the UC. "In fact, UC accepts courses from hundreds of schools affiliated with many religious faiths."
According to a Web site set up by the university system, UC rejected the Calvary Chapel course titled Christianity's Influence on America because it used a text that "instructs that the Bible is the unerring source for analysis of historical events" and evaluates historical figures based on their religious motivations."
The school's literature course, however, was rejected because the use of an anthology as the only common assigned reading was in direct conflict with UC's policy that students read at least some assigned works in their entirety as part of the classroom instruction, according to the UC Web site.
Still, Tyler cites instances of "discrimination" in 150 other institutions, including Jewish and Catholic schools. He said most private school students were better prepared for the UC system than public school students -- "averaging two grade levels advanced."
"They are not accepting the religious kids, only the secular ones," he said. "They end up saying, 'You only believe that God influenced history and intelligent design, as opposed to evolution. We do not accept you."
Thomas Buckley, professor of Modern Christian History at the University of California, Berkeley's Jesuit School of Theology, told ABCNews.com that the UC standards have been a "long-running concern," especially among fundamentalist Christian schools.
"There are people who are so quick to blow the whistle and call discrimination," he said.
"Any university has a right to set its criteria for admission," said Buckley, an expert in church-state issues. "When I was in high school -- San Jose Jesuit School -- I don't think my religious course counted toward college credit, and I don't think it should have."
"If [students] have taken some religious courses, that's lovely, but it shouldn't count as the criteria for admission," he said. "Would you want religion to take the place of English?"
Buckley argued that high school religious courses were "difficult to evaluate" and UC had a right to reject students who do not have "the same fundamental set of preparatory work achieved."
"Not getting credit for religious courses [is] a longstanding practice in higher education and it makes sense," he said. "You want all entering students to have a level playing field and to be treated equally."
Del Gavio-Kusich said she doesn't feel discriminated against, even though she took a full load of extra religious courses that didn't count on her college transcript.
She will happily enter California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo in the fall to study business.