Advocates for secular education in public schools still must regularly deflect attempts to insert creationism into science curricula and discredit the sound science of evolution.
But if it weren’t for a Supreme Court decision in the case Epperson v. Arkansas, which celebrated its 50th anniversary yesterday, it could still be illegal to teach evolution in some public schools.
On Nov. 12, 1968, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down Arkansas’ 1928 anti-evolution law that made it “unlawful for any [public school] teacher … to teach the theory or doctrine that mankind ascended or descended from a lower order of animals.”
“There is and can be no doubt 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 religious sect or dogma,” Justice Abe Fortas wrote in the majority opinion. “[N]o suggestion has been made that Arkansas’ law may be justified by considerations of state policy other than the religious views of some of its citizens. It is clear that fundamentalist sectarian conviction was and is the law’s reason for existence.”
“The Epperson decision was literally pivotal,” Ann Reid, executive director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), told religion reporter Kimberly Winston in a story for this month’s issue of Church & State magazine. “By putting a long-overdue end to the Scopes-era bans on the teaching of evolution, it empowered science teachers across the country to teach evolution more accurately, more honestly and more confidently.”
Kimberly’s story has much more on the evolution of these anti-evolution laws; the story behind the young, Christian science teacher named Susan Epperson who challenged Arkansas’ draconian law; and how anti-evolutionists have … well … evolved in their strategy to insert religion into public school science curricula. Check it out!
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(Photo: Susan Epperson. Credit: Everett Collection Historical / Alamy Stock Photo)