ACLU Urges Kansas Public Schools to Reject Religion-Based Evolution Teachings in Science Classes

Affiliate: ACLU of Kansas
August 13, 1999 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Kansas
Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


TOPEKA, KA — In a letter it is sending to public school districts across the state, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri today warned officials that the teaching of so-called “creation science” could lead to legal action on religious liberty grounds.

The ACLU sent the letter after the state Board of Education on Wednesday voted 6-4 to approve new standards for K-12 instruction that remove virtually any mention of evolution from the state-mandated science curriculum and allow schools to substitute theories based on religious doctrine.

“The law in this area is clear,” the ACLU letter said. “States and school districts may not adopt religious theories as standards in school curricula, nor may they restructure their curricula for the purpose of omitting accepted scientific theories which may conflict with particular religious beliefs.”

Although the new policy does not explicitly prohibit the teaching of evolution, it does remove the topic from statewide assessment tests, a move that may discourage school districts from including evolution theory in classroom instruction, the ACLU said.

“Our public schools bring together children reared in vastly different ways, even in the most homogeneous of communities,” said Eddie M. Lorenzo, Legal Director of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri. “When schools try to impose specific religious viewpoints, however, they undermine each family’s right to control their own children’s religious upbringing.”

In choosing to do away with mandatory teaching about Darwin’s 140-year-old theory of evolution, the Board of Education rejected a plan to maintain accepted science education standards endorsed by all six Board of Regents universities, a 27-member statewide committee of scientists, and Governor Bill Graves, the ACLU noted in the letter.

In addition, educators have pointed out that college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT include questions on Darwinism — questions Kansas students won’t be equipped to answer.

Several other states, including Ohio and Tennessee (the site of the ACLU’s original Scopes “Monkey Trial” case), have sought to force the teaching of creationism in the classroom. But those efforts have been struck down repeatedly by the U.S. Supreme Court as a violation of the separation between church and state.

“Having failed to succeed at forcing their so-called “creation-science” on public school students, proponents of creationism are now resorting to the tactic of removing essential scientific instruction,” Jay Barrish, president of the ACLU affiliate’s board.

“We think the courts will ultimately see this tactic for what it is – a blatantly unconstitutional attempt to introduce a specific religious viewpoint into the classroom.”

The ACLU’s letter to school superintendents is printed below.

[letter follows]

Dear Superintendent,

On August 11, 1999, the Kansas Board of Education approved changes in the standards for teaching science in Kansas public schools. In short, the Board deleted any requirements that scientific macro-evolutionary theory be taught in Kansas schools. These changes effectively allow school districts to develop their own standards in this area of science curricula. The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri is concerned that these changes permit school districts the latitude to now adopt religious theories of macro-evolution as science standards. Such theories include so-called “”creation science”” and theories of “”intelligent design.””

As you may know, public schools are prohibited from acting in any way which may tend to favor one religion over another, or favor religion over non-religion. Lee v. Wesiman, 505 U.S. 577, 587 (1992) citing County of Allegheny v. ACLU, 492 U.S. 573, 591 (1989). In Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987), the Supreme Court held unconstitutional a state requirement that schools teach creation science alongside traditional evolutionary theory. In reaching its conclusion, the court held that the Establishment Clause forbids “”the preference of a particular religious doctrine or the prohibition of theory which is deemed antagonistic to a particular dogma.”” Id. at 593; Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97, 106-07 (1968). The law in this area is clear. States and school districts may not adopt religious theories as standards in school curricula, nor may they restructure their curricula for the purpose of omitting accepted scientific theories which may conflict with particular religious beliefs.

We write you today to ask that you reject tailoring the science curricula in your district to conform, promote, or advance theories of evolution based in religious doctrine. Adopting such religiously based standards would place the district at risk of facing legal action by district residents who are opposed to a religiously based science curricula. Additionally, however, we urge that your school district maintain the accepted science education standards recently deleted by the Kansas Board of Education. Those standards have the support of all six Board of Regents universities, a 27 member statewide committee of scientists, and Governor Bill Graves.

Given the clear mandates of the Supreme Court and the current state of the law, we are confident that your district will review the recent changes in Board of Education policy, and act appropriately to maintain the science education standards that Kansas schools, and other school districts nationally, have long maintained.

I.J. Barrish

Dick Kurtenbach
Executive Director

Eddie M. Lorenzo, Esq.
Legal Director

By completing this form, I agree to receive occasional emails per the terms of the ACLU’s privacy policy.

The Latest in Religious Liberty

ACLU's Vision

The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.

Learn More About Religious Liberty

Religious Liberty issue image

The ACLU strives to safeguard the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty by ensuring that laws and governmental practices neither promote religion nor interfere with its free exercise.