Sunday, April 24, 2016

Is Anti-Evolution allowed in Kansas?

On April 19th, 2016, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided by a 3-0 margin that the science class curriculum in Kansas public schools wasn't anti-religious. This second challenge to the law came from an organization known as the Citizens for Objective Public Education (COPE). In its mission statement, COPE seeks to "promote objectively in public school curricula that address religious questions and issues so that educational effect of teaching is religiously neutral." The Next Generation Science Standards in question were adopted by the Kansas Board of Education in 2013. These standards are already in place in 26 out of the 50 states in the Union. In the suit, COPE accused the school board of promoting atheism to children, which would subtly manipulate Kansas schoolchildren into rejecting their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In its place, COPE wants schools to adopt A Patriot's History of the United States, a conservative take on American history.

The judges in the suit felt that COPE failed to "(1) show an injury that is concrete, particularized, and actual or imminent and (2) traceable to the challenged actions." The district court judges maintained that the standards "simply establish performance expectations for what students should know." The judges also pointed out "the standards don't condemn any or all religions and don't target religious believers for disfavored treatment."

I agree with the judge's ruling for a couple reasons. First, it is not the duty of public schools to teach religious content with a preference or a deference to any particular sect. As stated in Edwards v. Aguillard, religious content, especially the teaching of creationism, is not allowed to be taught within secular schools. The Supreme Court came to this decision using the Lemon test. The first branch of this test involves proving that the Next Generation Science Standards were secular. The second prong of the test is to prove that religion was neither advanced nor inhibited in the science requirements. Kansas's current laws state that these guidelines serve as "guideposts for school districts, which retain control to shape and adopt their curricula." This quote is a facially neutral statement on the purpose for the science standards, a secular obligation for any public school to fulfill. There is no religious language or motivations within the statement that appears to favor or dissuade anyone from a particular belief system. Both of the first two tests have been met. The final prong is to test whether there is any excessive entanglement between the religious and secular spheres. By having schoolchildren ask questions about the nature of life and the universe, there are likely many answers to be heard from students. Some of these answers may be based in religious contexts while others may come from a more scientific belief. Since students are coming to their own decisions about how the world works, there is no method of entanglement for their thoughts. In addition, by having students learn about potential perspectives that differ from theirs, it would foster unity within the classroom.

Second, if the decision were reversed the curriculum proposed by COPE would favor a Judeo-Christian belief. COPE previously stated that "Americans used to learn about American exceptionalism and religion." However, the current structure in their opinion teaches, "victimization, racism, and a host of other evils." This action would entangle the government and religious spheres based on the pro-religious contents of the book. As demonstrated in Westside Community School v. Mergens, high school students don't have the full ability to separate speech from the items that a classroom teaches. These potentially religious duties would be occurring during school hours, which were deemed to be unconstitutional. This Supreme Court decision was able to pass because the religious duties didn't interfere with any instructional time. On the other hand, college students such as the Rosenberg v. University of Virginia decision were treated as fully fledged adults that can handle speech which they may find blasphemous or false. The need to protect cohesiveness among its students is an important breach of the wall of separation that public schools need to perform. Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) in its own analysis of this case adds, "parents who oppose the teaching of evolution...can send their child to private religious schools, homeschool them, or offer supplemental instruction at home." This suggestions bases its logic behind the Supreme Court case, Everson v. Board of Education (New Jersey). In both decisions, parents, not the government or a school board retained the ultimate authority to decide which school they wanted their kids to attend. This case also suggested that the religious schools were created in order to ease the financial and resource burden that the public school system faces.


Liz S. said...

I completely agree with Jim. Not only do previous court cases prove that including a creationist view in science class is not allowed, but having evolution taught in schools by itself does not infringe on anyone's freedom to religion, and does not inhibit religion. While COPE argues that teaching evolution in schools promotes athiesism, this is very false. Many religious people believe in evolution and see it as God's plan. Thus, teaching evolution does not advance athiesm and while some religious views may conflict with the ideas taught in the theory of evolution, the schools are only teaching a scientific theory with some evidence, rather than something as a fact. After all, it is called the THEORY of evolution. Teaching evolution in schools is certainly not anti religious. If parents want their children to learn creationism, they can send their child to a religious school instead, or teach them that theory itself; nevertheless, it is important for children to learn different points of views so they may determine what they themselves think is true.

Caroline S. said...

I agree with Jim and Liz on this case. I think that requiring creationism in schools would be a violation of the Establishment Clause and would promote Judeo-Christian values over all other religions. The schools are teaching a widely accepted scientific theory, but the schools state that the students are asked to participate in class and are allowed to give a variety of responses based upon their understanding of evolution. I think that COPE means well, but does not take into account how many theories schools would be required to teach. I think that if students' religious beliefs directly conflict with the teaching of evolution, then the students should be able to petition for a religious exemption from the class or from having to take a test that would directly conflict with their beliefs. I do not think that any child should be penalized for their views based upon their religious beliefs, however I do not think that teaching creationism as the primary viewpoint in science classes over evolution.