Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sent a letter to Springboro, Ohio Community City School District officials making it clear that they reject plans to allow creationism to be taught in public school or risk costly litigation.
According to the ACLU and press reports, the district’s board of education requested officials explore ways to integrate creationism into the school’s curriculum. “The ACLU has a long history of defending everyone’s right to practice religion of their choice, or none at all,” said ACLU Ohio Legal Director James Hardiman. “However, if public schools begin to teach a religious ideology as scientific fact, it sends a message that the school supports that religion over others. Preferential treatment makes all people less free to hold their own beliefs.
Hardiman said that evolutionary theory and religion need not be opposed to one another. Many scientists are also devoutly religious and many religious people understand scientific theories, he added.
Recently state legislators have considered significant changes to teaching of evolution. The latest grassroots effort to do away with “antievolution” legislation in Louisiana have not been successful, despite petition drives against an obscure 2008 law that banned teaching of evolution.
Louisiana’s Senate Bill 70 would have repealed the law but failed to win a majority in the education committee last month. Meanwhile, other states have picked up similar efforts with new bills being introduced in Florida, Kentucky, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas so far in 2011, according to the National Center for Science Education.
The repeal of the Louisiana law had the support of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Louisiana Science Teachers and a good number of Nobel laureate scientists. The existing law promotes “critical thinking skills, logical analysis and an open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning.” Under this guise it encourages science education absent scientific theories of evolution.
The debate and support of these controversial bills has not been as heated as it was in Dover, Pennsylvania where the legal challenge against the teaching of intelligent design was successful. These bills have been called “academic freedom” bills and in the new round of legislation, most of them have failed to advance.
Texas legislation failed due to legislature adjournment before the bill could receive a hearing in committee. Tennessee’s legislature started the process of what has been dubbed “the monkey bill,” but it will not be voted on in the state senate until 2012. The legislation would allow teachers to “help students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories in the course being taught.”
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1987 in Edwards v. Aguillard that teaching creationism in public schools was a violation of the U.S. Constitution. In December 2005, a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled that intelligent design, a new ideology promoted as a scientific alternative to evolution, was no different than creationism. Scientists have nearly universally dismissed these theories as unverifiable.
“Springboro students must compete with other young people in the global marketplace. It is irresponsible for schools to divert resources that should be devoted to teaching science to promote certain religious beliefs. Instead, parents should be empowered to educate their kids on their spiritual values,” concluded ACLU’s Hardiman.