BACKGROUND: Six Significant Court Decisions Regarding Evolution/Creation
1. In 1968, in Epperson v. Arkansas, the United States Supreme
court invalidated an Arkansas statute that prohibited the teaching of evolution.
The Court held the statute unconstitutional on grounds that the First Amendment
to the U.S. Constitution does not permit a state to require that teaching
and learning must be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any
particular religious sect or doctrine. (Epperson v. Arkansas (1968)
393 U.S. 97, 37 U.S. Law Week 4017, 89S. Ct. 266, 21 L. Ed 228)
2. In 1981, in Segraves v. State of California the Court found
that the California State Board of Education's Science Framework, as written
and as qualified by its anti-dogmatism policy, gave sufficient accommodation
to the views of Segraves, contrary to his contention that class discussion
of evolution prohibited his and his children's free exercise of religion.
The anti-dogmatism policy provided that class discussions of origins should
emphasize that scientific explanations focus on "how", not "ultimate
cause," and that any speculative statements concerning origins, both
in texts and in classes, should be presented conditionally, not dogmatically.
The court's ruling also directed the Board of education to widely disseminate
the policy, which in 1989 was expanded to cover all areas of science, not
just those concerning issues of origins. (Segraves v. California
(1981) Sacramento Superior Court #278978)
3. In 1982, in McLean v. Arksansas Board of Education, a federal
court held that a "balanced treatment" statute violated the Establishment
Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Arkansas statute required public schools
to give balanced treatment to "creation-science" and "evolution-science".
In a decision that gave a detailed definition of the term "science,"
the court declared that "creation science" is not in fact a science.
The court also found that the statute did not have a secular purpose, noting
that the statute used language peculiar to creationist literature in emphasizing
origins of life as an aspect of the theory of evolution. While the subject
of life's origins is within the province of biology, the scientific community
does not consider the subject as part of evolutionary theory, which assumes
the existence of life and is directed to an explanation of how life evolved
after it originated. The theory of evolution does not presuppose either
the absence or the presence of a creator. (McLean v. Arkansas Board
of Education (1982) 529 F. Supp. 1255, 50 U.S. Law Week 2412)
4. In 1987, in Edwards v. Aguillard, the U.S. Supreme Court held unconstitutional Louisiana's "Creationism Act." This statute prohibited the teaching of evolution in public schools, except when it was accompanied by instruction in "creation science." The Court found that, by advancing the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind, which is embraced by the term creation science, the act impermissibly endorses religion. In addition, the Court found that the provision of a comprehensive science education is undermined when it is forbidden to teach evolution except when creation science is also taught. (Segraves v. State of California (1981) Sacramento Superior Court #278978)
5. In 1990, in Webster v. New Lenox School District, the Seventh
Circuit Court of Appeals found that a school district may prohibit a teacher
from teaching creation science, in fulfilling its responsibility to ensure
that the First Amendment's establishment clause is not violated, and religious
beliefs are not injected into the public school curriculum. The court upheld
a district court finding that the school district had not violated Webster's
free speech rights when it prohibited him from teaching "creation
science," since it is a form of religious advocacy. (Webster v.
New Lenox School District #122, 917 F. 2d 1004)
6. in 1994, in Peloza v. Capistrano School District, the Ninth
Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court finding that a teacher's
First Amendment right to free exercise of religion is not violated by a
school district's requirement that evolution be taught in biology classes.
Rejecting plaintiff Peloza's definition of a "religion" of "evolutionism",
the Court found that the district had simply and appropriately required
a science teacher to teach a scientific theory in biology class. (John
E. Peloza v. Capistrano Unified School District, (1994) 917
F. 2d 1004)
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