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Church and State

Church and State

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Home Civics Church and State Key Concepts Creationism and Intelligent Design in Schools

Creationism and Intelligent Design in Schools

  • Since 1968, courts have consistently opposed attempts to replace teaching of Darwinian evolution with creationism in public schools

Just as the Court’s decision on vouchers reflects its growing acceptance of certain forms of public aid to religious schools, the Court’s stance on creationism reflects its increasing resistance to religious encroachments on public school curriculum. Similar to its response to school prayer, the Court has taken an increasingly hard line on the question of what can be taught in public schools. As recently as 1968, an Arkansas state law prevented the teaching of Darwinian evolution. But that same year, the United States Supreme Court struck down that law and overturned an Arkansas Supreme Court decision protecting it as an illegitimate violation of the separation of church and state (Epperson v. Arkansas). In 1982, a federal court similarly struck down another Arkansas law requiring that "evolution-science" and "creation-science" be given "equal treatment" in the classroom. After lecturing the state on the definition of science, the court held that the purpose of the Arkansas law was to advance religion and was impermissible (McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education). And in 1987, the Supreme Court echoed this ruling in striking down a Louisiana law requiring that creationism be taught alongside evolution because it similarly failed to pass the Lemon Test (Edwards v. Aguillard).

Most recently, the courts have rejected more subtle attempts on the part of religious groups to influence public school curriculum. In 2005, a federal district court ordered a Georgia school district to remove the stickers it had placed on the science books stating that "evolution is a theory, not a fact" (Selman v. Cobb County School District). And in the same year, another federal court ruled that a Pennsylvania school district's "Intelligent Design Policy" violated the First Amendment. Under this policy, district teachers were required to inform students of the "gaps/problems in Darwin's Theory," and they were required to introduce "other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design." Moreover, teachers were mandated to refer students to a particular book explaining Intelligent Design theories (Kitzmiller v. Dover).

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