Clarifying the Legalities

There have been numerous legal challenges and court cases over the years dealing with the teaching of evolution. The courts have consistently supported the teaching of evolution.

  • A state/district/school can’t ban the teaching of evolution.
    The 1968 Supreme Court decision, Epperson v. Arkansas, struck down antievolution laws, noting:

    “...the First Amendment does not permit the state to require that teaching and learning must be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma...the state has no legitimate interest in protecting any or all religions from views distasteful to them.”

    Some anti-evolutionists claim that evolution is a religion and that its teaching is therefore unconstitutional. The courts have been quite clear that evolution is science, and therefore to teach it does not violate the First Amendment. The 9th Circuit Federal Appeals Court wrote in a California case (Peloza v. Capistrano Unified School District, 1994):

    “The Supreme Court has held unequivocally that while belief in a Divine Creator of the universe is a religious belief, the scientific theory that higher forms of life evolved from lower ones is not.”

  • A state/district/school can’t require equal time for creationism or creation science.
    Rejected by scientists and theologians, creation science also has been rejected by the courts. In the 1982 McLean v. Arkansas case, the judge wrote that creation scientists:

    “ ...cannot properly describe the methodology used as scientific, if they start with a conclusion and refuse to change it regardless of the evidence developed during the course of the investigation.”

    The Supreme Court in 1987 (Edwards v. Aguillard) struck down laws that would require “equal time” for evolution and creation science by noting that even if the word “science” was used, creation science really was religion in disguise, and therefore it is illegal to teach it.

    “...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.”

  • A teacher can’t teach creationism against district policy.
    A school district may prohibit a teacher from teaching creationism or creation science in school. The court found that this does not violate the teacher’s free speech rights, since public schools are required to be religiously neutral. In Webster v. New Lennox School District (1990), the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals stated:

    “If a teacher in a public school uses religion and teaches religious beliefs or espouses theories clearly based on religious underpinnings, the principles of the separation of church and state are violated as clearly as if a statute ordered the teacher to teach religious theories such as the statutes in Edwards did.”

  • A state/district/school can’t have a disclaimer that singles out evolution.
    An evolution disclaimer, which singles out evolution for special treatment from all other scientific endeavors, has been declared unconstitutional by a Federal District Court and its associated Appeals Court. The case of Freiler v. Tangipahoa Board of Education (1997) involved a local Louisiana school board’s antievolution disclaimer. Teachers were instructed to read a disclaimer to students stating that instruction in evolution is “not intended to influence or dissuade the Biblical version of creation or any other concept.” The specific reference to the Bible was a major reason this disclaimer was struck down. The judge wrote:

    “While encouraging students to maintain their belief in the Bible, or in God, may be a noble aim, it cannot be one in which the public schools participate, no matter how important this goal may be to its supporters.”


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