Americans United has filed freedom-of-information requests with education officials in Ohio and Montana to obtain detailed information about recent decisions to water down the teaching of evolution.
In Ohio, AU is investigating the Department of Education's approval of a lesson plan titled "A Critical Analysis of Evolution." In an April 6 letter, Americans United asked Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Tave Zelman to provide copies of "all documents referring to or relating to" the development of the lesson plan.
AU attorneys have made a similar information request in Darby, Mont., where the school board recently voted to require science teachers to "assess evidence for and against" evolution.
Religious Right groups have launched a national crusade to weaken instruction about evolution in public schools because it conflicts with their interpretation of the Bible. The federal courts have barred the teaching of creationism in science classes, so these organizations are now urging educators to teach "intelligent design" and to offer evidence "for and against" evolution.
"If officials are changing the public school curriculum to conform to religious dogma, that's clearly unconstitutional," said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Sound science education must not be sacrificed on the altar of religious zealotry."
The Supreme Court ruled in 1968 in Epperson v. Arkansas that an Arkansas law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in public schools was unconstitutional. The statute had been passed after pressure from fundamentalist Christian groups.
Americans United says evidence indicates that Ohio officials were influenced by religious pressure groups. Evolution instruction was watered down after a campaign led by the Discovery Institute, a neo-creationist group that rejects evolution.
AU's information request, made under Ohio's Availability of Public Records law, seeks to determine if the Ohio Board of Education is unconstitutionally promoting religion by undermining evolution instruction in public schools.
In Montana, Americans United wrote to Jack Eggensperger, superintendent of Darby School District 9. AU attorneys requested copies of "all documents referring to or relating to any potential decision of the Darby School Board to teach theories of the origins of human life, including evolution, creationism, intelligent design or other 'objective origins' theories."
The request was made under the Montana Open Records Act.
AU noted that the school board acted after a Baptist minister attacked evolution at a public seminar.