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Disclaimer on The Teaching Of Evolution Shot Down
August 26th 1999 5:53 P.M. EST
School board's efforts to protect creationism blocked by appeals court

By Jeremy Leaming
First Amendment Center


A panel of federal judges has struck down a Louisiana public school board's effort to require teachers to issue students a disclaimer saying that the teaching of evolution is not intended to subvert students' beliefs in creationism.

Coming only days after the Kansas Board of Education passed standards de-emphasizing evolution, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Aug. 19 unanimously invalidated an effort by a Louisiana public school board to promote religious beliefs in elementary and high school classrooms.

After a failed attempt in 1994 by the Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education to introduce creationism into science classes, calling it "creation science," the school board devised a disclaimer that teachers would have been required to read in all classes before instruction on evolution. Tangipahoa teachers were to inform students that the school board did not intend for evolution lessons to "influence or dissuade the Biblical version of Creation or any other concept."

The disclaimer was challenged in federal court by parents of students in the Tangipahoa schools as a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. A U.S. District Court sided with the parents and invalidated the disclaimer, saying the board adopted it solely for religious reasons. The school board then asked the 5th Circuit to overturn the ruling, claiming it adopted the statement to encourage freedom of belief and "to reduce offense to the sensibilities and sensitivities of any student or parent caused by the teaching of evolution."

However, Judge Fortunato Benavides, writing for the panel, agreed with the district court that the school board's true motives were to endorse and promote religion.

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