Evolution Questioned: Creationist Group Challenges Kansas Science Curriculum

The Religious Right would rather force its ideas on everyone than take a chance that someone might choose not to agree with them.

Americans United has reported frequently on the slew of Religious Right groups trying to test and redefine the bounds of “religious liberty.” Now it seems yet another organization has joined the fray, claiming that teaching evolution in public schools forces atheism on students and violates the “religious liberty” of some parents.

Kansas, which has had more than its share of church-state separation problems in recent years, actually managed to adopt national science standards for public schools (along with 25 other states) that present evolution as scientific fact. The concept will be taught from kindergarten through 12th grade under the new curriculum, the Associated Press (AP) said.

The standards were adopted earlier this year to replace 2007 standards that were merely “evolution friendly,” and education policy experts think the new guidelines will be better for science education because they focus on hands-on learning, the AP reported.

This is good, unless you’re a Religious Right ideologue who wants to use the public schools to indoctrinate kids. In that case, your “religious liberty” is under attack!

Enter Kansas-based Citizens for Objective Public Education (COPE), a group that claims “children have the right to be objectively informed about controversial explanations that impact religious beliefs, rather than be indoctrinated to accept a particular explanation.” (How ironic that this group opposes one-sided indoctrination.)

COPE has decided to sue on behalf of 15 Christian parents, most of whom have children in public schools, plus two other taxpayers living in the state. They say evolution is just not as concrete as scientists argue.

“The state’s job is simply to say to students, ‘How life arises continues to be a scientific mystery and there are competing ideas about it,’” John Calvert, a Kansas City-area attorney involved with the case, told the AP.

Sadly this isn’t Calvert’s first anti-science rodeo. The AP said he has questioned evolution before and is a founder of the Intelligent Design Network, which claims the origins of life are just too complicated to be explained by evolution alone.

Josh Rosenau, programs and policy director for the AU-allied National Center for Science Education, said Calvert has played this game for years without much success.

“They're trying to say anything that’s not promoting their religion is promoting some other religion,” Rosenau told the AP. It’s “silly,” he added.

Other experts agreed. Steven Case, director of the science center at the University of Kansas, said this argument has been tried before in court – and it didn’t work.

“This is about as frivolous as lawsuits get,” Case said.

But reason (and the Constitution) certainly isn’t holding Calvert back.

“By the time you get into the third grade, you learn all the essential elements of Darwinian evolution,” Calvert said “By the time you're in middle school, you’re a Darwinist.”

It amazes me that the Religious Right has so little faith in, well, faith. If a parent wants to instruct his or her child about intelligent design or creationism in the home, they have every right to do so. And if the child finds that argument more convincing than the evolutionary biology he or she learned about in class, so be it. The child has the right to make that decision.

But you know who doesn’t have the right to decide evolution can’t be taught in schools? The Religious Right. The U.S. Supreme Court has said creationism/intelligent design can’t be taught as fact in public schools because that amounts to religious promotion. 

Individual teachers, however, are allowed to mention that not everyone believes in evolution and that it’s ok for people to think that way. Some discussion of conflicting ideas is permitted.

Of course that will never be good enough for the Religious Right, which can’t seem to leave its faith to chance. They’d rather force their ideas on everyone than take a chance that someone might choose not to agree with them. It’s sad, it’s wrong, and it’s not going to work this time.