Blog of Rights

Creationism Follies: The 2012-2013 Edition

By Heather L. Weaver, ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief at 11:53am

This past April, when an image of a fourth-grade science quiz on dinosaurs went viral, many people did not believe it was real. The incredible quiz asked students to affirm that the earth is not billions of years old, that dinosaurs and people lived at the same time, and that fossils were caused by a global flood. The quiz ended by asking, "Next time someone says that the earth is billions or millions of years old, what can you say?" The correct answer: "Were you there?" In fact, the quiz was authentic and had been administered by a private Christian school in South Carolina. While the quiz is plainly contradicted by universally accepted scientific research, religious schools are well within their First Amendment rights to indoctrinate students in this manner. But a look back at the recently concluded school year provides a stark reminder that it's not only private schools promoting religious beliefs and bad science to students: Creationism abounds in public schools as well.

Here are just a few examples of creationism advocates working their influence in the public schools during the 2012-2013 school year:

  • The ACLU of Kentucky learned recently that Stinnett Elementary School in Hyden, Kentucky, took second graders on a field trip to the Creation Museum as part of its science curriculum. As its name foretells, the museum promotes a biblical account of creation as truth and bolsters that claim by presenting junk science to students. In one program, entitled "Evolution: Not a Chance," a museum official purportedly "illustrates the improbability of evolution" by entertaining children with magical illusions. In the "Monkey Business" workshop, "kids will learn that Lucy and other so-called ape men are not in the human family tree" and instead will be taught that "people were created specially in God's image." Other museum programs teach students how to examine fossils and draw dinosaurs "from a biblical point of view." Needless to say, the Creation Museum is not an appropriate – or lawful – field trip destination for public schools, and the ACLU sent a letter this month demanding that the school district put an end to these outings.
  • In Hugoton, Kansas, creationism advocates were invited into public schools to discuss the "truth about dinosaurs," or "God's Gospel Lizards," as the Creation Truth Foundation calls them. District officials arranged for the Creation Truth Foundation to present several school-day assemblies at Hugoton High this April. After receiving a letter from the ACLU and its Kansas affiliate, the District tried to quell the controversy by claiming that the assembly would be conducted by the Foundation for the Advancement of Childhood Education ("FACE"). However, as we pointed out in a follow-up letter, FACE is merely an arm of the Creation Truth Foundation, housed at the same address and staffed by the same individuals—all ardent advocates of creationism. And Matt Miles, the scheduled presenter, had no scientific training or teaching credentials. With the curtain pulled back and the spotlight focused on the District, Miles was forced to deliver a bare-bones version of his presentation, eliminating all religious content, but damage was still done: The assembly was a waste of valuable learning time; the district wrongly signaled to students that Miles was a legitimate scientific expert by allowing the event to go forward; and Miles was able to capitalize on that falsely gained credibility during proselytizing seminars that were held at school facilities in the evenings.
  • A biology teacher at A. Crawford Mosley High School in Lynn Haven, Florida, screened Creation Science Evangelism videos during an evolution lesson. The organization claims to be the "leading Christian-apologetics ministry, defending the literal interpretation of the Genesis creation account from the theory of evolution" and its videos purport to debunk evolution and suggest that evolution may not "be part of science." The ACLU of Florida promptly notified the school district that the Constitution prohibits public schools from promoting religious beliefs about the origin of life and we are continuing to investigate the matter.
  • The Springboro Community Schools board of education in Ohio introduced a policy that would deem evolution a "controversial issue," along with "other topic[s] on which opposing points of view have been promulgated by responsible opinion and/or likely to arouse both support and opposition in the community." The policy would have required that the principal of each school approve any instruction pertaining to controversial issues and that, notwithstanding the state curricular standards, "all sides of the issue should be given to the students in a dispassionate manner." After the ACLU of Ohio explained that public schools cannot skirt the Constitution under the pretexts of "balanced treatment," "teaching the controversy," "academic freedom," or encouraging "critical thinking"—all creationist code phrases for promoting a biblical view of the origin of life—the school board decided that the policy needed further study and backed down for now.

Although it's been nearly 90 years since the Scopes Monkey Trial and 45 years since the Supreme Court overturned a state ban on teaching evolution in public schools in Epperson v. Arkansas, it's not surprising that these types of incidents continue to pop up across the country. Over the past school year, a number of state legislatures considered measures that would make it easier for public schools to introduce creationist beliefs and materials into science classrooms. And with every critical defeat, the creationism movement simply regroups and maps out yet another scheme to undermine evolution education in the public schools. Even if they are deserving of no other compliment, creationism advocates must be acknowledged for their persistence. They're in it for the long haul, so we must be, too.

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