Anti-evolution Attacks on the Rise

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…"
-- From the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Editor's Note: As part of a special report on the theory of evolution and an alternative idea known as intelligent design, LiveScience reviews current legislation and historically pertinent court cases.

Current State Legislation Involving Evolution

In 1925, the Tennessee State Legislature passed the Butler Act, a bill aimed squarely at evolution that made it illegal to teach any theory that denied the biblical account of creation. The bill was promptly challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and thus began the famous Scopes Monkey Trial.

Challenging Darwin

The number of global actions against evolution by national governments, state legislatures, and state and local boards of education is growing. The vast majority of the cases are in the United States.

LiveScience graphic
Credit: National Center for Science Education

The plaintiff in the case was John T. Scopes, who was accused by the state of illegally teaching evolution to his high school biology class.  In the end, Scopes was fined $100 by the judge, but a year later the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the decision on a technicality and the case never went any further.

Since then, Darwin's theory of evolution has been tried by American courts 10 times (including a trial in Pennsylvania that began yesterday).

Two of those instances have been before the nation's Supreme Court. After each defeat, creationists have reinvented themselves in ever more sophisticated guises. First there was creationism, then creation science and now intelligent design, also known as ID.

On the heel of each reinvention came a rash of antievolution legislation. The same spate of activity has occurred with ID.

This year alone, at least 17 bills challenging evolution's place in the public school curriculum have been considered in 13 states. Many of them also argue that a place be made in the classroom for ID. Here they are:

Evolution & Intelligent Design

An Ambiguous Assault on Evolution
This Trojan Horse for Creationism has become very popular. But who is being duped? And what does it all mean for morality?

'The Death of Science'
Intelligent design is presented as a legitimate scientific theory and an alternative to Darwinism, but a close look at the arguments shows they don't pass scientific muster. So why are scientists worried?

Belief Posing as Theory
As evolution takes a beating, scientists remind us of the difference between fact, theory and belief.

Anti-evolution Attacks on the Rise
Each time the effort to introduce creationism into classrooms starts up again, so does legislation aimed against evolution. Learn about the rash of recent cases, plus a look at historically pertinent court cases.

Introduced into the Alabama State Legislature earlier this year, House Bills (HB) 352 and 716 and Senate Bill (SB) 240 would have allowed teachers to "to present scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories" and the right of students to "hold positions regarding scientific views."
Status: Not Passed (all)

Introduced into the Arkansas House of Representatives in March, HB2607 would have required the State Department of Education to include "intelligent design" in school curriculums.
Status: Not Passed

Also known as the Academic Freedom Bill, HB837was introduced into the Florida House of Representatives in February and would have purportedly allowed students to sue teachers for teaching evolution.
Status: Not Passed

Introduced into the Georgia House of Representatives in January, HB179 will require that facts “inconsistent with or not supporting” evolution also be taught.
Status: Ongoing

House Resolution (HR) 6018 was introduced into the Kansas House of Representatives in February and recommends the teaching of "the full range of scientific views that exist” in order to encourage “objectivity in science education.”
Status: Passed but nonbinding

Introduced in January, SB2286 advocated for "balanced treatment to the theory of scientific creationism and the theory of evolution" and would have required "instruction in scientific theories of both evolution and scientific creationism if public schools choose to teach either."
Status: Not Passed

Introduced last December, HB35 would have required that “all biology textbooks sold to the public schools of the state of Missouri shall have one or more chapters containing a critical analysis of origins.”
Status: Not Passed

In March, two evolution-related measures failed to pass through the Montana State Legislature. One of them, LC1199, advocated the teaching of “competing theories of origin.” The other, SJR8, endorsed "the importance of separation of church and state" and opposed including "theories commonly referred to as creationism, creation science, and intelligent design theory" in science classes.
Status: Not Passed (both)

New York
Introduced into the New York State Assembly in May, Assembly Bill 8036 would have required that "all pupils in grades kindergarten through twelve in all public schools in the state ... receive instruction in both theories of intelligent design and evolution."
Status: Not Passed

Introduced in 2004, SB719 will allow school boards to use 20 percent of their textbook money on books not approved by the state, including religious or creationist text.
Status: Ongoing

Introduced in March, HB1007 will allow school boards to include "intelligent design" in curriculums containing evolution and allow teachers to use "supporting evidence deemed necessary for instruction on the theory of intelligent design."
Status: Ongoing

South Carolina
A section in SB114, a senate bill introduced in December 2004, would have required the creation of a committee to examine whether alternatives to evolution should be offered in schools; the section was subsequently removed in February. Introduced in June, SB909 will require that  “where topics are taught that may generate controversy, such as biological evolution, the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, [and] why such topics may generate controversy…”
Status: SB909 is still ongoing

Introduced in December 2004, HB220 will allow the state to decide what can be included in textbooks. The sponsor of the bill said he wanted to see creationism be taught alongside evolution and for the mention of evolution be removed from science textbooks
Status: Ongoing

Legislation requiring instruction of “divine design” is being threatened in Utah.
Status: On hold

Historical Court Cases Involving Evolution

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…"

Over the years, people attempting to ban evolution in classrooms or to peddle creationism as science have constantly found their efforts thwarted by these sixteen words. Known respectively as the “Establishment Clause” and the “Free Exercise Clause” of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, these two statements together form the foundation of religious freedom in this country.

Evolving Issue

Top 10 Missing Links
Discoveries that have helped build the puzzle of mankind's evolution.

Creation Myths
Legends that helped define civilizations past and present.

Vestigal Organs
Darwin argued that useless limbs and leftover organs are evidence of evolution.

Of the many court cases involving government and religion, nine have dealt specifically with the treatment of evolution and creationism in public schools. LiveScience reviews them here:

Epperson v. Arkansas (1968)
In 1968, Susan Epperson, a high school biology teacher in Little Rock, Arkansas, was faced with a dilemma: the school district had recently adopted a new biology textbook that included sections on evolution, but according to state law, it was illegal to teach them. Yet, if Epperson didn't teach evolution, she risked disciplinary action from the school board.

Epperson sued the state, and the case was brought before the Supreme Court. The court ruled that the law violated the Establishment Clause and concluded that the primary motivation behind it was a literal reading of the Book of Genesis. In other words, the court found that there were no secular reasons for not teaching evolution, only religious ones.

Segraves v. State of California (1981)
Kelly Segraves sued the state when he learned that his three young boys were being taught evolution at school, arguing that his and his childrens' freedom of religion were being violated.

The California Superior Court disagreed, pointing out that by law, scientific class discussions about the origins of life could focus only on how life might have developed, not on what its ultimate cause might be. Therefore, the teaching of evolution shouldn't be construed as either an establishment of religion or as an infringement upon anyone's religious beliefs.

McClean v. Arkansas Board of Education (1982)
Finding their efforts to outlaw the teaching of evolution constantly rebuffed by the courts, creationists tried a different tactic: If evolution can be taught in public schools, isn't it only fair, they said, that alternative theories about the origins and development of life be taught as well?

Legislators in Arkansas thought so, and passed a law requiring the “balanced treatment” of evolution with “creation science.” When the case reached a federal court, however, the judge struck down the law and ruled that creation science wasn't really science because its language was based on creationist text.

Edwards v. Aguillard (1987)
If you can't beat them, join them.

That was the thinking of Louisiana legislators when they passed the state's “Creationism Act,” which made it illegal to teach evolution unless creation science was taught as well.

The Supreme Court found the act unconstitutional. By implying that a supernatural being created humankind, creation science was an impermissible endorsement of religion. The court pointed out that teachers were never forbidden from presenting alternative scientific theories before the act was passed. Therefore, the real purpose of the act was to tack creationism onto any curriculum that included evolution.

Webster v. New Lenox School District (1990)
In 1987, an Illinois social studies teacher named Ray Webster began teaching creation science to his students after disagreeing with a textbook statement that said the earth was more than four billion years old.

A student complained, and when a school superintendent warned him to stop, Webster sued, claiming that his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights were being violated.

The case was eventually brought before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that teaching creation science for any reason was a form of religious advocacy and that schools could prohibit teachers from teaching it.

Peloza v. Capistrano School District (1994)
Turning the tables on the scientific community, high school biology teacher Ray Peloza sued the Capistrano School District in California, claimed that “evolutionism” was itself a kind of religion, one that promoted a secular worldview.

Teaching it in public schools therefore violated the First Amendment rights of both students and teachers, Peloza said, because it imposed a religion on the former and restricted the religious views of the latter.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals didn't agree and dismissed Peloza's claim, saying that it rested on the false assumption that evolution denied the existence of a creator. The court further ruled that a public employees right to free speech could be restricted while on the job because they are representing the government.

Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education (1997)
On the ostensible grounds of promoting critical thinking, the Tangipahoa School District in Louisiana passed a law requiring teachers to read aloud a disclaimer before teaching evolution. The disclaimer emphasized that evolution was only a “theory” and that teaching it was “not intended to influence or dissuade the Biblical version of Creation or any other concept.”

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals saw through the creationist ruse, however, and found that the disclaimer did not in fact promote critical thinking because it essentially told students not to question what they already knew. The judges further concluded that the motivation behind the disclaimer was religious and therefore unconstitutional.

LeVake v. Independent School District 656 (2001)
When Rodney LeVake, a high school biology teacher in Minnesota, began teaching the students in his 10th grade biology class “evidence both for and against the theory” of evolution, the school principal became uneasy and reassigned LeVake to the 9th grade.

LeVake sued, arguing that he was being discriminated against because of his religion and that his right to free speech was being violated in order to silence his criticisms of evolution. 

The district court judge ruled that it was a public school teacher's responsibility to teach evolution according to the curriculum and that teachers could be prevented from teaching a biology course if they couldn't adequately teach evolution.

Selman v. Cobb County School District (2005)
In 2002, Georgia's Cobb County School District began placing stickers in its newly adopted high-school biology textbooks stating that: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."

Five local parents sued the school district, claiming that the stickers inhibited the teaching of evolution and promoted a view about the origins of life that was faith-based.

A district court judge agreed and said the sticker  "misleads students regarding the significance and value of evolution in the scientific community." The judged ruled that the stickers undermined the first amendment and that the stickers must be removed.