February 2018 Church & State | Editorial

A recent incident from New Mexico reminds advocates of church-state separation why we need to remain vigilant when it comes to science education in public schools.

State education officials were implementing new science standards and, for some reason, removed a reference to evolution and made other changes that alarmed advocates of sound science education.

Parents, scientists, advocates of church-state separation and others rose up and applied pressure. The ill-considered alterations were soon revoked.

It’s a happy outcome, but it wouldn’t have happened if people hadn’t taken the time to get involved.

More than 30 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a poorly drafted Louisiana law that mandated “balanced treatment” between evolution and creationism in that state’s public schools. A federal court in Penn­sylvania, acting in a lawsuit brought by Americans United and its allies, invalidated a policy in Dover’s public schools that promoted “intelligent design” in 2005.

Creationists have not fared well in court, but that doesn’t mean they’ve gone away. Indeed, their strategies are evolving. In a number of states, bills have been introduced in recent years that require “controversial” subjects to be taught in a “balanced” manner.

That may sound innocuous until one realizes that the “controversial” subject singled out is evolution and that the “balance” is creationist religious dogma.

Creationism may lose in court, but that doesn’t mean that all public schools are doing a good job teaching evolution. In some parts of the country, Religious Right activists continue to apply pressure. Thanks to their meddling, evolution – the central organizing principle of biology – isn’t taught adequately or is portrayed as little more than a shaky theory.

As we learned in New Mexico, parents, students, educators, scientists and others who value sound science instruction can make a difference. They just need to lift up their voices.