Americans United last month warned a Missouri public school district that a high school assembly by a creationist lecturer violates the U.S. Constitution.
Responding to concerns raised by residents in the Potosi R-III School District, AU Assistant Legal Director Richard B. Katskee advised school officials that a plan to hold a high school assembly and allow middle school visits by Mike Riddle from the group Answers in Genesis would violate the separation of church and state.
Answers in Genesis (AIG) is a Kentucky-based fundamentalist Christian ministry that attacks evolution and argues for a literal reading of the biblical Book of Genesis. The group is known for its advocacy of young-Earth creationism, which holds that the Earth is thousands of years old and that the Book of Genesis is scientifically accurate.
AIG’s mission statement reads that its goal is to “obey God’s call to deliver the message of the Gospel, individually and collectively.” The organization is currently building a creationist museum that is scheduled to open in 2007. According to AIG’s Web site, the 50,000-square-foot museum “will proclaim to the world that the Bible is the supreme authority in all matters of faith and practice and in every area it touches on” as well as “be a wonderful alternative to the evolutionary natural history museums that are turning countless minds against the gospel of Christ and the authority of the Scripture.”
According to the AIG Web site, Riddle was in Missouri to make presentations to the Potosi Community Church and at Potosi Southern Baptist Church. Despite the group’s clear sectarian goals, Riddle was invited to speak in the schools. The school’s Web site noted that Riddle would make a presentation of two hours and 45 minutes at the Potosi High School and follow up with visits to classrooms at the local middle school.
In a May 5 letter to Superintendent Randy Davis and other officials in the Potosi district, Katskee asserted, “We write to inform you that the scheduled assembly and classroom presentations cannot lawfully be presented in the public schools and that allowing them to occur would be a substantial constitutional violation…. Simply put, public schools may not lawfully seek to debunk evolution for religious ends, nor may they teach religious views of the origins of life. The May 8 assembly and classroom presentations by Answers in Genesis will do both.”
In response, AU received a curt note from Thomas A. Mickes, an attorney who represents the school district. Mickes insisted that Riddles’ presentation would not be religious in nature and accused AU of sending a letter “replete with generalizations about the program” that failed to “indicate any knowledge of the presentation to be made in the District.”
Given the short time frame, AU was unable to file litigation, and the presentations went on as planned. But AU is not letting the matter drop. On May 8, Katskee sent a detailed request to the Potosi school citing Missouri’s open-records law and requesting copies of any correspondence, documents, e-mails or other communications relating to the scheduling of Riddles’ appearance as well as a copy of the presentation.