The attempt to introduce creationism into the public schools is one of the most serious church-state threats young people face. Not only does teaching religion in biology class violate students’ rights by imposing fundamentalist theology on them, it also leaves youngsters woefully unprepared for the demanding science courses many of them will encounter in college.
It’s imperative, therefore, that defenders of church-state separation remain on the alert to block creationists’ various schemes. Over the years, courts have struck down so-called “balanced treatment” laws that require that creationism be taught alongside evolution, the teaching of “intelligent design,” anti-evolution disclaimers pasted into textbooks and other overtures.
Efforts by rogue teachers to claim an “academic freedom” right to teach creationism also surface from time to time. Such a case is currently pending before the Ohio Supreme Court. In that long-running legal battle, teacher John Freshwater insists that he has a constitutional right to bring his religious views into the classroom.
He does not. Courts have ruled time and again that public schools must curb teachers who preach. There are many reasons for this: Preaching is not part of a public school teacher’s job, and allowing school staff to impose religion on young people violates the rights of parents.
Additionally, granting teachers an unfettered right to bring any idea into the secondary school classroom is a recipe for chaos. What if a teacher believes that space aliens built the pyramids? Or that the 9/11 attacks were an inside job?
American society is plagued with all manner of unconventional beliefs and conspiracy theories. Public schools must have the right to exclude this sort of material from the classroom.
Many states are moving toward the adoption of a core curriculum. The rise of standardized tests and the academic expectations of many colleges and universities have led school administrators to see the value in requiring that students demonstrate competency before they are handed a diploma.
Science standards often require that students show an understanding of evolution. Fundamentalists may not like it, but evolution is considered the foundation of modern biology. Students who aren’t exposed to it in high school will be at a serious disadvantage when they walk into freshman biology in college.
Secondary school teachers who elevate their personal religious beliefs above the core curriculum are doing more than violating the religious liberty rights of students. They are also engaged in a form of educational malpractice.
Courts must recognize this and give public schools the tools they need to crack down on instructors who’d rather preach than teach.