Recently it was announced that the school board of Livingston Parish was proclaiming their intent to insert creationism into the science classes in public high schools. To quote an article from the local paper, The Livingston Parish News (registration required): “The School Board Thursday petitioned Livingston Parish Public Schools administrators to investigate options to study the teaching of creationism theory in high school science classes starting in the 2011-12 school year.”
The teaching of creationism is explicitly prohibited in public schools. It specifically violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. That was the ruling of the Supreme Court in 1987 in Edwards v. Aguillard, and, in relation to the “Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction Act,” it held that “The Act is facially invalid as violative of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, because it lacks a clear secular purpose,” that “The Act does not further its stated secular purpose of ‘protecting academic freedom,” and “The Act impermissibly endorses religion by advancing the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind.”
It is important to note that the act in question was from Louisiana. One might wonder, then, what justification the school board could use in petitioning school administrators to figure out how to get creationism into the science class. Let’s look at their words. Again from the LPN story linked above, “Board member Clint Mitchell said that teaching creationism is not really teaching religion. ‘Teachers should not have to be afraid to not teach those things that are not prudent in evolution’, Mitchell said.”
The Supreme Court explicitly disagrees with Mitchell that “teaching creationism is not really teaching religion.” It is a strange assertion to make given that creationism, by definition, proposes that world is the world of a supernatural act of Creation by some Creator. That very much seems like a religious belief.
Some of the other board members were much more forthright. Board member David Tate said, “We just sit up here and let them teach evolution and not take a stand about creationism. To me, how come we don’t look into this as people who are strong Christians and see what we can do to teach creationism in schools. We sit back and let the government tell us what to do. We don’t pray to the ACLU and all them people: we pray to God.”
There can be no misunderstanding Tate’s reasoning. He is explicit that creationism should be taught because that is what “strong Christians” should do, because they “pray to God.” This is explicitly a religious matter for Tate.
Board president Keith Martin had perhaps the most interesting reason for bringing creationism into the science classroom. He said, “Kids are getting harder and harder to discipline. Without this kind of thought, it will get even harder.” Martin is implying that creationism will make students behave, but it is difficult to understand how such would work, and Martin does not elaborate.
Beyond the legal problem is the bigger issue of whether or not creationism is science. It is not. There is simply no way around that. There is no scientific evidence for anything like a supernatural creator. Does that mean one cannot accept that as an article of faith? Well, that is a different question. What is at issue here is what is appropriate for the science classroom. Since the class is about science, it would seem obvious that science is the appropriate subject matter. Attempting to shoehorn religion in there is not just illegal, it is foolish.