Nov 19, 2008

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today urged the Texas State Board of Education to stick to sound science and reject creationist concepts when revising its science standards.

The state school board is currently examining the science curriculum, which is reviewed and updated every 10 years. The Seattle-based Discovery Institute and other Religious Right forces are seeking to include loopholes that undermine instruction about evolution and open the door to creationist ideas.

Scientists, teachers, mainstream religious leaders and civil liberties activists want to improve the Texas standards to ensure that the public school classroom does not become a vehicle for religious indoctrination.

“Public schools should educate, not indoctrinate,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “The Religious Right is exploiting Texas public schools to push a narrow viewpoint and in the process is doing a great disservice to its students, not to mention undermining the mandates of our Constitution.”

The battle in Texas is focused on Religious Right-backed language currently in the standards that requires schools to teach the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution. That wording, experts say, is an invitation to introduce creationist concepts based on fundamentalist religion, not science.

“Let’s just hope members of the Texas school board recognize the ‘strengths and weaknesses’ language for what it is,” Lynn concluded. “If they don’t, they could be inviting public school districts to face some costly litigation.”

In its letter to the board, Americans United makes it clear that litigation may result if religious beliefs are introduced into public school science classrooms.

The board’s decision, which is expected to be made in March, could influence science instruction across the country. Texas is the second largest purchaser of textbooks, after California. To meet Texas standards, textbook producers may include creationist concepts in books that would circulate nationally.

A hearing is scheduled for today in Austin for individuals and groups to testify on the curriculum.

Religious Right groups have already succeeded in pushing through their agenda in Louisiana, which now allows science teachers to use “supplemental materials” to teach the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution. AU is closely monitoring whether religious beliefs are being introduced unconstitutionally as science by teachers in Louisiana.

The federal courts have repeatedly struck down other tactics used by the Religious Right to push religion in public science classes. In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard invalidated a Louisiana statute requiring science educators to “balance” teaching evolution concepts with “creation science” concepts.

In 2005, a federal district court said in Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District that Pennsylvania public schools cannot teach “intelligent design,” a creationist concept that claims the universe and living things were created by an “intelligent cause.” The court ruled “intelligent design” unconstitutional for use in public schools because it is unscientific and religious.

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.