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Introduction
Background: Religious Liberty in America
Prayer in Public School
Religion in the Curriculum
Evolution vs. Creationism
Teaching About Religious Holidays
Religious Displays on School Property
Released Time Programs
Student Religious Clubs
Use of School Facilities by Outside Religious Organizations and Clubs
Distribution of Religious Materials by Students
Distribution of Religious Material and Proselytizing by Non-school Personnel
Dress Codes
Teachers' Religious Expression
ADL Can Help
Education  
Religion in the Public Schools RULE
Evolution vs. Creationism

General Rule: Evolution must only be taught as scientific fact. Creationism may not be taught as science under any circumstances.

May a public school science teacher's right to teach evolution be restricted?
No. The United States Supreme Court has determined that it is unconstitutional to restrict an educator's right to teach evolution. 35

May a science teacher who teaches evolution also teach creationism? No. Educators may not teach, as fact, the theory that humankind was created by a divine being. In science classes, educators must present only scientific explanations for life on earth and scientific critiques of evolution. Furthermore, schools may not refuse to teach evolution in an effort to avoid offending religious individuals. The United States Supreme Court has held that it is unconstitutional to require educators who teach evolution also to teach creationism. 36

In addition, disclaimers regarding the theory of evolution as the only explanation for the development of humankind have been found to be unconstitutional. In Freiler v. Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education, 185 F. 3d 337 (5th Cir 1999), cert. denied, 530 U. S. 1251 (2000), the court struck down a school board rule requiring teachers to read a disclaimer that said that the teaching of evolution is "not intended to influence or dissuade the Biblical version of Creation or any other concept."

May creationism ever be discussed in the public schools? Yes. Creationism may be included in classes on comparative religion as an example of how some religious groups believe human life began. However, creationism may never be taught as scientific fact.

Do scientific integrity and equity require that we teach a competing theory of human origins? Some have argued that equity, intellectual honesty and scientific integrity require the teaching of creationism as a differing and alternative point of view. However, creationism may not be taught as a response to the theory of evolution. Indeed, creationism (or "creation science") does not meet the tenets of science as scientists use the term. 37 Moreover, it is not a matter of equity to teach a religious point of view in a public school classroom with taxpayer dollars.

Additionally, there is a growing movement promoting the teaching of "intelligent design theory" which asserts that the only reasonable explanation for the very complexity of the world and development of humans is the existence of God. This "theory," often couched in scientific terminology, is just another species of creationism, and thus also must not be taught in the classroom as scientific fact.

Sample Scenario:

    Parent Asks Biology Teacher to Stop Teaching Evolution or Include Creationism
    Mrs. Anderson teaches a seventh grade biology class which includes a section on Darwinism and evolution. Jenny Hunter is a student in Mrs. Anderson's class. Jenny's mother was helping Jenny with her homework one night when she realized that Jenny was studying evolution, which goes against the family's belief in divine creation. Jenny's mother asked Mrs. Anderson to either stop teaching evolution or to also include a section on creationism, creation-science or intelligent design in her biology class.

    How should Mrs. Anderson respond?
    Mrs. Anderson should continue to teach evolution and should not teach any theory that humankind was created by a divine being. While Jenny should be expected to learn and understand the theory of evolution, she should not feel compelled to agree with the theory. Mrs. Anderson should make sure Jenny is not ridiculed because she believes in divine creation.

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