Christie Has No Problem With Teaching Creationism in Public Schools
[Update 2 – 5/16/11 – Is NJ media finallyÂ willing to write aboutÂ Christie’s right wing ideology? Christie looks bad in this Sunday Star Ledger story: Taking a stance on topics like evolution, illegal immigration could carry political risk for Christie
Important update below]
On April 28, 2011, in a post criticizing global warming deniers, I wrote:
TheÂ media â€“ for far too long -Â have given legitimacy to falsehoods by reporting the false claims of ideologues as â€œhe said/she saidâ€ stories, rangingÂ from the birthers, to global warming deniers, and intelligent design religious fundamentalists who reject Darwinian evolution as fraud.
I was aware of our science challenged Governor’s right wing pandering views on global warming.
But even I thought the GovernorÂ had taken high school biology (i.e. Darwinian evolution) and civics (i.e. Constitutional restrictions on establishment of religion).
Christie thought that teaching creationism in public schoolsÂ was a “tricky” isssue. [Note: that is the Star Ledger’s word. I originally meant to quote Christie’s “new one” claim.]
Going even further, Christie’s Department of Education spokesman said “of course” creationism could be taught in science class.
Read the full story andÂ weep in today’s Star LedgerÂ Auditor column.
Update: My friend Scott Olson takes me to task for taking the Governor and Education Department comments out of context. Olson wrote (comment in its entirety, so there can be no questions about context. Emphasis mine):
AlthoughÂ the legal and scientific issues are obvious to me,Â I tend to assume a lot of knowledge or research curiosity on the part of my readers. So, in response to Scott’s concern, let’s break this down and take one point at at time.
In Edwards …Â the Supreme Court held that a requirement that public schools teach “creation science”Â along with evolution violated the Establishment Clause. The import of EdwardsÂ is that the Supreme CourtÂ turned the proscription against teaching creation science in the public school system into a national prohibition.Â
IDÂ is the more recent religious argument to attack Darwinian evolution, given the illegality of creationism.
Creationism has long been discredited, both legally and scientifically.
1. Why Governor Christie’s commentsÂ were so outrageously offensive and incorrect
Since I have been accused of taking quotes out of context, here is the full Christie quote (I linked to it on the original post. Sorry, I don’t know exactly what the question wasÂ that he responded to)
While charming a town hall audience in Manalapan Wednesday, Gov. Chris Christie called on a woman who had an unusual question for him. She asked what he thought about creationism being taught in schools along with evolution.
The governor paused and took a sip of water, quipping, â€œThatâ€™s a new one.â€
It was also a tricky one for the governor of a moderate state whose conservative credentials help make him a GOP star.
â€œI probably have little business getting myself involved in these kinds of questions,â€ Christie said, adding that local school boards â€œshould be making those decisions about what curriculum is being taught in your schools.â€
â€œI think itâ€™s really a dangerous area for a governor who stands up from the top of the state to say you should teach this, you shouldnâ€™t teach that,â€ Christie said.
First of all, the Governor is a lawyer and officer of the Court, so itÂ reasonablyÂ can be assumed that he is knowledgeable of the law. Accordingly, we canÂ expect that he is obligated to act (speak) in accordance with the law.Â
Second of all, he swore an oath to uphold the constitution. That oath was sworn on the Bible, but not to the Bible (a big difference, and the reason for my original photo caption).
With those premises in mind, in direct contradiction to the Governor’s statement, the issue ofÂ whetherÂ creationism can legally beÂ taught in public schools is not a “new one”.Â It was decided by the US Supreme Court almost 25 years ago.
And in addition toÂ setting binding curriculum standards with which all local school districts must comply,Â theÂ state is obligated to tell teachers that there are some things that they may not teach. Christie has to know this – if not he is incompetent.
Aside from the texbook history thatÂ high school kids learn, and the plain meaning and Supreme Court interpretation of the text of the “establishment clause” of the First amendment, the specific issueÂ of whether Creationism could be taught in public schools was settled by by the US Supreme Court in 1987, in a case known asÂ Â Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987).
In that case, the Supreme Court ruled thatÂ Â a LouisianaÂ law requiring that “creation science” be taught in public schools, along with evolution,Â was unconstitutional because the law was specifically intended to advance a particular religion.Â
Teaching Creationism is flat out illegal in the public schools and has been for a long time,Â since 1987Â – period.Â
Christie obviously must have learned this in law school and read this case.
Local school boards do NOT have unfettered discretion onÂ curriculum on this issue.
Christie was obligated to say this, as a licensed lawyer, officer of the Court, and Governor who took an oath to uphold the Constitution.
That fact that he didn’t respond to the question in accordance with the Â longstanding law of the land and instead chose to panderÂ is disgusting.(suppose he got a question about whether Mexicans could be excluded from public schools, or whether women, gays, blacks, or Jews should be restricted? Would that too be a “new one“?)
It is absolutely shameful that Christie responded the way he did.Â And all people of good faith should call him out on it.
2. Why the Department of Education’s comments wereÂ wrong and blatently illegal
Here is the full excerpt of the Department of Education statement – again, I do not know the question asked:
As it turns out, the state does have a set of core curriculum standards that require what, at minimum, should be taught in New Jersey schools. Evolution is on the list for science classes; creationism isnâ€™t.
â€œNo, the state would not permit the teaching of creationism in place of evolution,â€ said Department of Education spokesman Alan Guenther. â€œCould teachers discuss creationism either in science or history classes? Of course. As long as they also teach the required material.â€
That statement parrots the religious fundamentalists’ line to “teach all the evidence” and toÂ “teach the controversy” (as if there is a legitimate scientific debate about creationism).
By use of the “in place of evolution”, he statementÂ falsely implies that creationism legally may be taught alongside Darwinian evolution, or in history class. That isÂ just flat out wrong (as a matter of science) and illegal (as a matter of law).
It is embarrasing that I even have to write this post to try to explain that.Â
Teachers may not teach creationism – in history, or in a science class – either as a stand alone topic orÂ alongside Darwinian evolution. Period.
Here’s what the Supreme Court concluded about teaching creationism in the 1987 decision cited above (emphases mine):
The Court has been particularly vigilant in monitoring compliance with the Establishment Clause in elementary andÂ secondary schools. Families entrust public schools with the education of their children, but condition their trust on the understanding that the classroom will not purposely be used to advance religious views that may conflict with the private beliefs of the student and his or her family. Students in such institutions are impressionable, and their attendance is involuntary. See, e.g., Grand Rapids School Dist. v. Ball, 473 U. S. 373, 473 U. S. 383 (1985); Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U. S. 38, 472 U. S. 60, n. 51 (1985); Meek v. Pittenger, 421 U. S. 349, 421 U. S. 369 (1975); Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, 374 U. S. 203, 374 U. S. 252-253 (1963) (BRENNAN, J., concurring). The State exerts great authority and coercive power through mandatory attendance requirements, and because of the students’ emulation of teachers as role models and the children’s susceptibility to peer pressure. [Footnote 5] See Bethel School Dist. No. 403 v. Fraser, supra, at 478 U. S. 683; Wallace v. Jaffree, supra, at 472 U. S. 81 (O’CONNOR, J., concurring in judgment). Furthermore, “[t]he public school is at once the symbol of our democracy and the most pervasive means for promoting our common destiny. In no activity of the State is it more vital to keep out divisive forces than in its schools. . . .” Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U. S. 203, 333 U. S. 231 (1948) (opinion of Frankfurter, J.). Consequently, the Court has been required often to invalidate statutes which advance religion in public elementary and secondary schools. See, e.g., Grand Rapids School Dist. v. Ball, supra, (school district’s use of religious school teachers in public schools); Wallace v. Jaffree, supra, (Alabama statute authorizing moment of silence for school prayer); @ 449 U. S. 430 (1962) (recitation of “denominationally neutral” prayer).
Therefore, in employing the three-pronged Lemon test, we must do so mindful of the particular concerns that arise in the context of public elementary and secondary schools. We now turn to the evaluation of the Act under the Lemon test.
The US Supreme Court concluded that creationismÂ may not be taught in public schools because it violates the first amendment’s “establishment clause”:
These same historic and contemporaneous antagonisms between the teachings of certain religious denominations and the teaching of evolution are present in this case. The preeminent purpose of the Louisiana Legislature was clearly to advance the religious viewpoint that a supernatural being created humankind. [Footnote 11] The term “creation science” was defined as embracing this particular religious doctrine by those responsible for the passage of the Creationism Act. Senator Keith’s leading expert on creation science, Edward Boudreaux, testified at the legislative hearings that the theory of creation science included belief in the existence of a supernatural creator. See 1 App. E-421 – E-422 (noting that “creation scientists” point to high probability that life was “created by an intelligent mind”). [Footnote 12] Senator Keith also cited testimony from other experts to support the creation science view that “a creator [was] responsible for the universe and everything in it.” [Footnote 13] 2 App. E-497. The legislative historyÂ therefore reveals that the term “creation science,” as contemplated by the legislature that adopted this Act, embodies the religious belief that a supernatural creator was responsible for the creation of humankind.
Furthermore, it is not happenstance that the legislature required the teaching of a theory that coincided with this religious view. The legislative history documents that the Act’s primary purpose was to change the science curriculum of public schools in order to provide persuasive advantage to a particular religious doctrine that rejects the factual basis of evolution in its entirety. The sponsor of the Creationism Act, Senator Keith, explained during the legislative hearings that his disdain for the theory of evolution resulted from the support that evolution supplied to views contrary to his own religious beliefs. According to Senator Keith, the theory of evolution was consonant with the “cardinal principle[s] of religious humanism, secular humanism, theological liberalism, aetheistism [sic].” 1 App. E-312 – E-313; see also 2 App. E-499 – E-500. The state senator repeatedly stated that scientific evidence supporting his religious views should be included in the public school curriculum to redress the fact that the theory of evolution incidentally coincided with what he characterized as religious beliefs antithetical to his own. [Footnote 14]Â
The legislation therefore sought to alter the science curriculum to reflect endorsement of a religious view that is antagonistic to the theory of evolution.
In this case, the purpose of the Creationism Act was to restructure the science curriculum to conform with a particular religious viewpoint. Out of many possible science subjects taught in the public schools, the legislature chose to affect the teaching of the one scientific theory that historically has been opposed by certain religious sects. As in Epperson, the legislature passed the Act to give preference to those religious groups which have as one of their tenets the creation of humankind by a divine creator. The “overriding fact” that confronted the Court in Epperson was “that Arkansas’ law selects from the body of knowledge a particular segment which it proscribes for the sole reason that it is deemed to conflict with . . . a particular interpretation of the Book of Genesis by a particular religious group.” Similarly, the Creationism Act is designed either to promote the theory of creation science which embodies a particular religious tenet by requiring that creation science be taught whenever evolution is taught or to prohibit the teaching of a scientific theory disfavored by certain religious sects by forbidding the teaching of evolution when creation science is not also taught. The Establishment Clause, however, “forbids alike the preference of a religious doctrine or the prohibition of theory which is deemed antagonistic to a particular dogma.” Id. at 393 U. S. 106-107 (emphasis added). Because the primary purpose of the Creationism Act is to advance a particular religious belief, the Act endorses religion in violation of the First Amendment.
3. Why Scott Olson missed the point
Scott claims IÂ took ” TWO words and ben[t] the crap out of them out of context “.
ScottÂ is talking about the Department of Education’s statement that:
â€œNo, the state would not permit the teaching of creationism in place of evolution,â€ said Department of Education spokesman Alan Guenther. â€œCould teachers discuss creationism either in science or history classes? Of course
It appears thatÂ Scott mistakenly believes either that:
a)Â it is OK to teach creationism in science class as long as you teach evolution.Â That is just flat out wrong, becauseÂ creationism is not science and teaching it isÂ illegal (see above Supreme Court decision). Creationism is not science because it presumes certain supernatural causes in the absence of evidence, which is antiethical to science; or
b) it is OK to teach creationism in history class. This too is not legal for the same reasons set forth in the Supreme Court’s decision.
Contrary to Scott’s claim, I didn’t leave out any context that mattered -Â in fact, theÂ facts and the legal andÂ scientific context overwhelmingly destroy both Christie and the Department of Education’s embarrrasing comments.