Kansas Devolves, Again

The last time Kansas updated its science curriculum standards, we all know what happened. Religious Right-oriented members of the Kansas Board of Education tried to eliminate virtually every reference to evolutionary biology from the K-12 curriculum.

National and international outrage brought shame on the whole state. In the next election, the far-right members were swept out of office and replaced by moderates eager to restore science to science classrooms.

Three years later, it is time again to update the Kansas curriculum standards, and the creationists are at it again. Elections last Tuesday gave the creationists a 6-4 majority on the panel. When the new members assume their positions next year, they will begin the process of revising the latest set of standards.

Creationists are up to their old tricks. Using the spurious claim that "both sides" should be taught, they confuse the issue. Understanding that public opinion is against them they hide behind the monicker of "Intelligent Design."

Regardless of these tactics, the bottom line is the same: the Religious Right wants public schools to reflect the fundamentalist Christian version of creation. Fundamentalists who believe this insist that the evolutionary account of origins conflicts with religion. Their goal is nothing less than the removal of evolutionary biology from the textbooks of American schoolchildren.

This minority of religious activists wishes to use science class to elevate their particular brand of Christianity above all other versions and above non-Christian faiths. As a matter of fact, most religions accept the theory of evolution. Most major denominations in America even have policy statements backing the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Despite all this, a zealous minority of the religious community continues to press the creationist case. The Supreme Court has twice dealt defeat to the creationists' attempts to write their beliefs into law - in Epperson v. Arkansas (1968) and Edwards v. Aguillard (1987). Instead, they now focus their efforts on state and local school boards.

Representatives from well-funded groups crisscross the country insisting that evolution is controversial within the science community and that a growing number of scientists support their creationist claims. About the only adherents of these ideas are right-wing groups and far-right politicians who share their hostility to church-state separation.

In 2002, the president of the National Academy of Sciences responded by calling Intelligent Design "a recent permutation of 'creation science' that is being touted as an alternative to the modern theory of evolution." Since then, scientists have begun organizing against the misrepresentation of their field. They realized that the threat is real.

In Kansas and across America, classrooms are populated by students of diverse religious backgrounds. The Supreme Court has held time and time again that the public schools are not forums for religious indoctrination.

Although the Kansas Board of Education is poised to repeat its mistake, the members of the board should take a moment to reflect on the reaction in 1999. Teaching a religious belief as science violates separation of church and state. Parents everywhere would rather their children learn science in science class. To do otherwise damages their futures.