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ICR not out of the woods yet?

The Institute for Creation Research claims that its new School of Bible Apologetics is "exempt from licensing by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board" — but is it? As NCSE's Glenn Branch explained in Reports of the NCSE, "When the Institute for Creation Research moved its headquarters from Santee, California, to Dallas, Texas, in June 2007, it expected to be able to continue offering a master's degree in science education from its graduate school. ... But the state's scientific and educational leaders voiced their opposition, and at its April 24, 2008, meeting, the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board unanimously voted to deny the ICR's request for a state certificate of authority to offer the degree." Subsequently, the ICR sued THECB, but a June 18, 2010, ruling in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas granted summary judgment for the defendants.

It was not until the September 2010 issue of the ICR's Acts & Facts that the ICR seems to have publicly commented on the decision, with Henry Morris III, the ICR's chief executive officer, writing, "ICR's legal battle is over." Information about the graduate school quietly vanished from the ICR's website over the summer of 2010, but writing in Creation Ministries International's Journal of Creation (forthcoming 2010; 24 [3]: 54-55), Chris Ashcraft reported (PDF), "On 25 June 2010 the ICR board of directors voted to close the Grad School." Replacing it, apparently, is the ICR's School of Biblical Apologetics, which offers a Master of Christian Education degree; Creation Research is one of four minors. In a frequently asked questions section, the ICR claims that SOBA, as "a predominantly religious education school," is exempt from the THECB's authority as well as from any accreditation requirements.

But in a frequently asked questions section of its website, THECB asks, "Are religiously affiliated institutions exempt from state oversight under the First Amendment of the US Constitution?" and answers, "No. The provisions of the Texas Education Code narrowly regulate certain activities that are academic only, and since these provisions do not regulate any religious practice, there is no conflict between the state's oversight of degree-granting and the First Amendment of the US Constitution." It also asks, "Does the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act exempt religiously affiliated institutions from state regulation?" and answers, "No, the Attorney General issued an opinion (JC-0200) that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not exempt religiously-affiliated institutions from the requirements under the Texas Education Code (Chapter 61, Subchapter G)."

It is possible, of course, that the ICR will seek to obtain certification for SOBA to issue its Master of Christian Education Degree. In 2008, when THECB was in the process of deciding whether to grant certification to the ICR's graduate school to offer a master's degree in science education, the idea of the ICR's offering a degree in creation studies rather than science education was reportedly floated; Steven Schafersman of Texas Citizens for Science told the Austin American-Statesman (January 10, 2008), "It would be churlish to deny ICR the ability to grant a graduate degree when we allow theology schools and Bible colleges to grant graduate degrees ... What we object to is letting them grant a degree in science education." A spokesperson for THECB would not confirm that the idea of a degree in creation studies was suggested, however, according to the Dallas Morning News (January 11, 2008).

Update. The ICR is apparently out of the woods after all. The Texas Administrative Code provides, "The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board does not regulate Religious Institutions of Higher Education which offer degrees only in religious disciplines" (19 Tex. Admin. Code 1.7A, §7.9). It appears that THECB failed to clarify the relevant frequently asked questions of its website section in light of the Texas Supreme Court's decision in HEB Ministries, Inc. et al. v. Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (235 S.W.3d 627 [Tex. 2007]), which established that THECB does not have oversight over institutions that offer exclusively religious education and training. The preceding paragraph, speculating on whether the ICR could obtain certification for its School of Biblical Apologetics to offer its Master of Christian Education degree, is thus moot.

Revised on September 4, 2010, to add the fifth paragraph.