Saturday, February 11, 2012

Oppose SB 1742

SB 1742 Is Another Attempt to Introduce Religion Into Science Classrooms

Although a seemingly innocuous term, “strengths and weaknesses” has been co-opted for decades by groups promoting the teaching of religion in the classroom. It is just one of many euphemisms, such as “teach the controversy,” “full range of scientific views,” “critical thinking,” and “evidence for and against,” used to undermine students’ learning about evolution. And implying that there is a scientific controversy around evolution, as this bill does, is just plain false.

Evolution “is the only tested, comprehensive scientific explanation for the nature of the biological world today that is supported by overwhelming evidence and widely accepted in the scientific community.” Thus, arguments that students should learn about “fundamental weaknesses in the science of evolution are unwarranted based on the overwhelming evidence that supports the theory” and will only harm students’ education. Science education policies, like SB 1742, which perpetuate the teaching of non-science with deceptive phrases like “scientific critique of the theory of evolution,” allow creationists to continue to make non-scientific attacks against evolution.

Religion Should Be Taught By the Family, Not In Science Classrooms

Science is “limited to the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena.” The goals of science are narrow: Science cannot provide “‘ultimate’ explanations for the existence or characteristics of the natural world . . . [and it] does not consider issues of ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’ in the world.” Rather, many people seek these important answers in religion.
Only families get to decide what religious beliefs they will teach to their children. And for many, disparaging evolution in order to promote creationism conflicts with their beliefs. Therefore, because “[f]amilies entrust public schools with the education of their children, but condition their trust on the understanding that the classroom will not purposely be used to advance religious views that may conflict with the private beliefs of the student and his or her family,” courts are “particularly vigilant in monitoring” whether religious beliefs are taught in public schools.

The Result of this Bill Will Be Costly Litigation

SB 1742 mischaracterizes the current status of legal challenges to the Louisiana law, upon which this bill is modeled. It is true that the Louisiana law has not yet been invalidated – but that is only because there has not been a facial challenge to the law. The Louisiana law – like SB 1742 – invites discussion of religious beliefs in the science classroom. The creationist strategy in this bill is an attempt to skirt the U.S. Constitution and federal court rulings prohibiting the teaching of creationism in public schools. The federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have consistently and repeatedly held that creationism in all its variations cannot be taught in public schools. Thus, when there is a challenge, either to the law itself or to its implementation, it will invariably be struck down after costly litigation.

Barbara Forrest, Understanding the Intelligent Design Creationist Movement: Its True Nature and Goals 19-22 (May 2007), available at

Nat’l Acad. of Scis. & Inst. of Med., Science, Evolution, & Creationism 53 (2008) (emphasis added), available at

Id. at 52.

Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, 400 F. Supp. 2d 707, 735–36 (M.D. Pa. 2005). Americans United served as co-counsel in this case.

Id. at 735.

Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578, 584 (1987).

See Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97, 106 (1968) (striking down a state statute prohibiting the teaching of evolution in public schools, and explaining that “the First Amendment does not permit the State to require that teaching and learning must be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any [religion].”); see also Edward, 482 U.S. 578, 591 (1987) (invalidating a Louisiana statute requiring the “balanced treatment” of evolution and “creation science” in the public schools and declaring the law unconstitutional because its “preeminent purpose . . . was clearly to advance the religious viewpoint that a supernatural being created humankind.”); see also Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish Bd. of Educ., 185 F.3d 337, 348 (5th Cir. 1999) (striking down an oral disclaimer casting doubt on evolution and referring to “biblical” alternatives); Peloza v. Capistrano Unified Sch. Dist., 37 F.3d 517, 522 (9th Cir. 1994) (holding that a science teacher was properly required by his school district to teach evolution and refrain from discussing his religious views); Daniel v. Waters, 515 F.2d 485, 491 (6th Cir. 1975) (striking down statute requiring schools teaching evolution to devote equal time to other theories, including Biblical account of creation).

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