Nov 30, 2007

Officials with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) should rehire a science curriculum expert who was forced to resign after she notified people about a lecture critical of “intelligent design” (ID), says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Chris Comer, director of science curriculum, was pushed out after she circulated an e-mail mentioning that a leading scholarly critic of ID, the latest variant of creationism, would be speaking in Texas. Comer sent a notice about the talk as an “FYI.”

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, blasted officials at TEA and called on them to promptly reinstate Comer.

“It’s a sad day when a science expert can lose her job merely for recommending that people hear a speaker defend sound science,” Lynn said. “Officials in Texas seem intent on elevating fundamentalist dogma over academic excellence and common sense.”

Lizzette Reynolds, a former staff member at the U.S. Department of Education now working for TEA as a senior adviser, played a key role in Comer’s ouster. She responded to Comer’s e-mail about the ID lecture by urging Comer’s bosses to fire her.

The Austin American-Statesman reported that Reynolds’ message said, “This is highly inappropriate. I believe this is an offense that calls for termination or, at the very least, reassignment of responsibilities. This is something that the State Board, the Governor’s Office and members of the Legislature would be extremely upset to see because it assumes this is a subject that the agency supports.”

Lynn noted that the lecture on ID was to be given by Barbara Forrest, who serves on the Americans United Board of Trustees. She is an acknowledged expert on intelligent design. Coauthor of the book Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design, Forrest served as an expert witness in a federal lawsuit in Dover, Pa., that struck down the teaching of ID.

“By noting Forrest’s talk, Comer was simply doing her job: alerting people to a resource they might find useful,” Lynn said. “I am appalled at this action by TEA and urge officials to immediately correct this gross injustice.”

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.