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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