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2010 March 8 - 12:00 am

ACLU Accuses Calif. Instructor Of Teaching Religion as Science

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — An instructor at a community college in Fresno has been presenting his religious views on homosexuality, abortion and global warming as fact to students in an introductory health science class, the American Civil Liberties Union alleged.

ACLU staff attorney Elizabeth Gill said at least two students at Fresno City College have complained that instructor Bradley Lopez quoted the Bible as proof that human life begins at conception, characterized homosexuality as a mental illness and discussed apocalyptic Christian prophesies during a lesson on climate change.

If the students’ descriptions are correct, Lopez’s teaching methods would violate California laws protecting gays from discrimination and prohibiting religious indoctrination at public schools, Gill said. She sent a letter to college president Cynthia Azaria asking the school ``to act immediately to ensure that all its health classes provide only accurate and unbiased information.’’

An e-mail to Lopez and a telephone message left at his office were not returned. The college president issued a statement in response to media inquiries.

“The college takes its non-discrimination and prohibition of harassment policies seriously, investigates alleged violations and takes appropriate actions to enforce compliance,” Azaria said. “Beyond that, we don’t comment on personnel matters for confidentiality reasons.”

Lopez is one of several Fresno City College instructors who teach the Health Science I course, which the college catalog describes as a survey of “contemporary science concepts and medical information designed to promote health.” Topics covered in the course include sexuality, nutrition, substance abuse, physical fitness and heredity.

“Someone should realize you can’t have a class like this presenting deeply held, and I’m sure honestly held, religious views as science,” Gill said. “This is not a situation where people are taking a seminar on religion. Folks taking this class think they are getting Health Basics 101.”

Jacqueline Mahaffey, 24, who had Lopez as a teacher last semester, said his personal beliefs became apparent on the first day of class when he made a point of contradicting their textbook, which listed cancer as the leading cause of death. Lopez told the class that abortions killed more people than cancer.

During the second week, Lopez allegedly gave the students a genetics assignment that involved studying the Bible to research Jesus Christ’s biological makeup. He also told students that “evolution is a dead theory” and invited them to visit him in his office “if you want to know about your Creator.”

Mahaffey said she and another student filed complaints with Lopez’s dean about halfway through the semester following a lecture in which he said that sexual behavior involving less than 5 percent of the population should be classified as a mental disorder and that homosexuality “degrades” society.

Mahaffey said she nonetheless stayed in the class and earned an A.

Gill said that as a college instructor, Lopez is free to express his opinions but that because Fresno City College is publicly funded, his teaching cannot become “religious inculcation.”

Fresno City College is a two-year school with an enrollment of about 25,000.

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