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Texas Prof's evolution policy becomes subject of federal probe. (People & Events).

A Texas Tech University biology professor who refuses to give letters of recommendation to students who deny evolution is being investigated by federal authorities.

Professor Michael Dini was targeted by the Liberty Legal Institute, a Religious Right legal group acting on behalf of student Micah Spradling, a fundamentalist Christian. The Institute called Dini's policy "open religious bigotry," but university officials disagreed, asserting that a professor has no obligation to write a recommendation for any student.

Dini's webpage outlines his recommendation policy. He says students seeking a letter of recommendation must have earned an A in one of his classes, must know him fairly well and must be willing to "truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer" to the question of "How do you think the human species originated?"

Spradling, 22, had been a student in Dini's biology class in the fall but withdrew when he learned about the evolution policy. He later enrolled at Lubbock Christian University because, he said, "[I could not] sit there and truthfully say I believe in human evolution." Spradling later re-enrolled at Texas Tech.

In a Jan. 21 letter to Texas Tech, the U.S. Justice Department asked officials to respond to the charges that Dini's policy amounts to religious bigotry. School officials have said they will stand by the professor.

Dini, a Roman Catholic, told The New York Times that his policy isn't meant to disparage anyone's religious beliefs.

"The policy is not meant in any way to be discriminatory toward anyone's beliefs, but instead to ensure that people who I recommend to a medical school or a professional school or a graduate school in the biomedical sciences are scientists," he said. "I think science and religion address very different types of questions, and they shouldn't overlap."

Dini has written recommendation letters for religious students in the past. Student Brent Lawlis of Midland, who obtained a letter of recommendation from Dini, told The Times, "I'm a Christian, but there's too much biological evidence to throw out evolution."

Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel of the Liberty Legal Institute, told The Times that if the Justice Department drops the investigation, he will probably file a lawsuit against Texas Tech.
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Publication:Church & State
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2003
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