Texas Education Official Forced Out In Flap Over ‘Intelligent Design’

The director of science curriculum for the Texas Education Agency (TEA) was forced to resign in November after she notified people about a lecture critical of “intelligent design” (ID).

Christine Castillo Comer, 56, was pressured to step down after she forwarded an e-mail to several others mentioning that a speaker critical of ID, the latest variant of creationism, was coming to Austin on Nov.2. Comer sent a notice about the talk to a local online community as an “FYI.”

The speaker, Barbara Forrest, is a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University. Forrest is an acknowledged expert on ID and coauthor of the book Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. Forrest, who serves on the Americans United Board of Trustees, was an expert witness in a federal court case that struck down the teaching of ID in Dover, Pa., public schools.

Apparently, just sending information about Forrest’s talk was enough to get Comer fired. Lizzette Reynolds, a former staff member at the U.S. Department of Education now working for TEA, played a key role in Comer’s ouster. She responded to Comer’s e-mail about the ID lecture by urging Comer’s bosses to fire her.

The Austin American-Statesman reported that Reynolds e-mailed Comer’s superiors just hours after Comer sent the e-mail about Forrest’s talk. Her message said, “This is highly inappropriate. I believe this is an offense that calls for termination or, at the very least, reassignment of responsibilities. This is something that the State Board, the Governor’s Office and members of the Legislature would be extremely upset to see because it assumes this is a subject that the agency supports.”

Comer told The New York Times that politics played a role in her ouster.

“I don’t see how I took a position by FYI-ing on a lecture like I FYI on global warming or stem-cell research,” Comer said. “I send around all kinds of stuff, and I’m not accused of endorsing it.”

Comer told The Times that recently she had been pressured to stop saying that Texas education officials support the teaching of evolution. Part of her job involved responding to letters and e-mails from people asking about how the subject is taught in Texas public schools. Comer said she always responded by saying that the State Board of Education supports the teaching of evolution. But she said recently she was told to stop saying that.

Comer said she finds it difficult to understand how a science educator could be fired for promoting sound science.

“I’m for good science, and that when it came to teaching evolution, I don’t think it’s any stretch of the imagination where I stand,” she said.

The Texas State Board of Education will begin reviewing the science portion of its statewide curriculum next year. The curriculum determines what is taught in Texas public schools and what textbooks are purchased.

Advocates of teaching standard science are worried, saying that the ouster of Comer does not bode well. In addition, earlier this year, Texas Gov. Rick Perry appointed a creationist, Don McLeroy, to head the State Board of Education.

Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, blasted TEA officials for forcing out Comer and called on them to promptly reinstate her.

“By noting Forrest’s talk, Comer was simply doing her job: alerting people to a resource they might find useful,” Lynn said. “I am appalled at this action by TEA and urge officials to immediately correct this gross injustice.”

Continued Lynn, “It’s a sad day when a science expert can lose her job merely for recommending that people hear a speaker defend sound science. Officials in Texas seem intent on elevating fundamentalist dogma over academic excellence and common sense.”