The First Amendment Implications of Teaching the Theory of Evolution and Creationism in Public Schools

By Brownfield, Ellen Yonts | Journal of Law and Education, January 2007 | Go to article overview

The First Amendment Implications of Teaching the Theory of Evolution and Creationism in Public Schools


Brownfield, Ellen Yonts, Journal of Law and Education


INTRODUCTON

Recently, a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled that intelligent design1 could not be taught in the classroom,2 noting that intelligent design is religion masquerading as science.3 In recent years, intelligent design litigation has become quite a topic of controversy. The President of the United States defied critics of intelligent design and endorsed that it be taught by the end of 2005. In January 2006, the Governor of Kentucky promoted the theory while addressing the Commonwealth in a speech.4 Much of the controversy stems from what creationists view as the lack of support for intelligent design. Arguably, intelligent design is a revamped theory of creationism. As long as evolution is being taught in the classroom, proponents of creationism will persist in their attempt to have a religious-based theory taught alongside, or in place of, evolution. It appears that no judicial opinion will ever sway their efforts. However, the bottom line remains that the public school classroom must be free from all endorsement of religion. Therefore, the teaching of creationism is strictly prohibited by the United States Constitution.

Nearly a century ago, the debate between Darwinian Evolution and Biblical Creationism consumed a Tennessee courtroom. A teacher by the name of John Scopes tried unsuccessfully to challenge the validity of a state statute that considered the teaching of evolution a criminal offense.5 He was soon arrested for his opposition, which was considered a violation of this statute.

This historical event, known as the "Scopes Monkey Trial," dealt with several First Amendment issues: religion, science, and education.6 The aftermath of this case includes numerous current debates in state legislatures, courtrooms, and schools.7 At the center of this debate, in terms of what should be taught in public schools, is the clash between the views of religious fundamentalists' and those who support science-based reasoning. Disputes regarding science and religion are as common today as they were when Charles Darwin first introduced the concept of evolution8 in his book, On the Origin of Species, in 1859.9

The foundation for the theory of evolution is derived from The Origin of Species. Advocates of creationism around the world have consistently rejected the idea of evolution. They instead rely on a literal interpretation of the Bible in Genesis which includes the belief that all living species were created by a divine force or power.10 The institution of Darwin's theory of evolution compelled many proponents of creationism to devise tactics that would either circumvent the teaching of evolution in public schools or, at the very least, give equal credence to both evolution and creationism in the classroom.11

Supreme Court jurisprudence deems both anti-evolution legislation and balanced treatment legislation, which seeks to incorporate creationism with the theory of evolution, as an infringement of the rights guaranteed by the Establishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause, and the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.12 Undaunted by this legal precedence, creationists continue to be relentless in their efforts to push creationism into public school curricula.

In section one of my paper, I discuss anti-evolution legislation and how it has developed through the years. I highlight the purpose behind this type of legislation and the case law that subsequently developed, as a result of these laws. In section two, I talk about various methods used to suppress evolution. This includes the constitutional arguments supporters of creationism use to convince people that evolution is a religion; thereby, creating creationists' latest challenges to evolution through their strong support of balanced treatment legislation. section three further analyzes balanced treatment legislation, as well as reviewing other current attempts to eradicate evolution. Finally, my conclusion presents my definitive point: The U. …

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