The New Face of Creationism: The Establishment Clause and the Latest Efforts to Suppress Evolution in Public Schools
Over seventy-five years after the impassioned debate be- tween William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow echoed through a hot Tennessee courtroom, the controversial confrontation over science, religion, law, and education can still be heard in legislative halls, courtrooms, schools, and homes across the nation. The now infamous "Scopes Monkey Trial" of 19253 brought the debate between religious fundamentalism and modern day scientific theory to the forefront and sparked twenty state legislatures to consider measures to prohibit the teaching of evolution in public schools. Nearly a century later, the dispute rages on. Twenty states considered anti-evolution measures in both the 1920s and the 1990s. Whether the incorporation of certain religiously motivated theories of the earth's origin into public schools violates the fundamental separation between church and state is a question that continues to plague this country today.
Since Charles Darwin first introduced the concept of evolution in his 1859 book The Origin of Species, Christian fundamentalists have rejected this scientific theory, contending that it conflicts with a literal reading of the Bible and its teachings that all living species were created by divine power. This Biblical-based tenet regarding the earth's origin is commonly known as "creationism," and its followers, "creationists," have developed various strategies that endeavor to remove the teaching of evolution from public schools and incorporate creationism into science curricula." Despite Supreme Court jurisprudence that laws banning and criminalizing the teaching of evolution, and laws mandating the teaching of creationism, violate the Establishment Clause, creationists continue to develop new tactics to voice their opinions and beliefs.
Currently, Christian fundamentalists are using three strategies designed to remove evolution and, in certain instances, incorporate creationist theory into public school curricula. One strategy is to attempt to remove evolution from state science curricula, and correspondingly, from state-mandated tests. Another strategy that creationists have employed is the use of a "disclaimer," read before teaching evolution, to caution students that evolutionary theory is not to be taken as fact and is not intended to discount other beliefs that they may have regarding the earth's origin. Thirdly, legislatures across the nation have enacted statutes requiring that evolution be taught as a theory, not a fact. The success of this legislation has fomented a new response to evolution known as Intelligent Design.' This latest movement encourages teachers to present the controversy between Darwinism and creationism, and then point to evolution's inability to provide all scientific answers. The proponents of these three recent strategies have justified their actions as legal by relying on certain language in Supreme Court precedent suggesting that states and local school from state-mandated tests.
Deborah A. Reule,
The New Face of Creationism: The Establishment Clause and the Latest Efforts to Suppress Evolution in Public Schools,
54 Vanderbilt Law Review
Available at: https://scholarship.law.vanderbilt.edu/vlr/vol54/iss6/7