N.Y. public school reins in proselytizing teacher, per FFRF advice

Holland Patent Central School District has remedied a serious state/church violation following the advice of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

A concerned district parent recently reported to FFRF that a Holland Patent High School biology teacher began a lesson on evolution by undermining the theory of evolution, denigrating those who understand and accept the fact of evolution. He also perpetuated commonly debunked attacks on evolution.

The teacher reportedly told students that “evolution only goes so far,” and that when they take the Regents Exam they have to “play the evolution game where evolution is the answer to everything.” He then went on to say that “they have never been able to find when something becomes something else.”

The teacher also reportedly derided “true evolutionists” and told students to ask them “where has the proof ever been shown and where does it say in science that it can become something else. There’s nothing.” To sum up his teardown of evolution he ended,

“So what that means is you have to play the evolutionary game because the people writing this are married to that idea despite the new proofs and new science coming out. What that means is anything is really fair game, whether it’s the belief that aliens came down and created us as like a project, God created us and everything else, whatever god that might be, that you subscribe to …”

FFRF sent a letter to Holland Patent Central School District Superintendent Jason Evangelist, pointing out that this teacher’s anti-scientific rant was both unconstitutional and pedagogically deplorable.

Teaching creationism or any of its offshoots, such as intelligent design, in a public school is unlawful, because creationism is not based in fact. Courts have routinely found that such teachings are religious, despite many new and imaginative labels given to the alternatives.

“Any attempt to teach that there is a controversy about evolution is fraught with legal peril,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line wrote to Evangelist. “Evolution, like gravity, is a scientific fact. Teaching that there is a scientific controversy about the validity of evolution is akin to teaching astrology with astronomy or alchemy beside chemistry.”

FFRF’s letter reminded the school that it is wildly inappropriate for the beliefs of one school of religious thought to be pushed on a captive audience of public school students and urged the district to take appropriate disciplinary and corrective action regarding this teacher’s unconstitutional conduct.

The district has taken swift action to address FFRF’s concerns and ensure that Holland Patent students are no longer subject to religious proselytization in its schools.

“We have consulted with our legal counsel to confirm a clear understanding of the constitutional requirements referred to in your letter regarding instruction on evolution,” Evangelist responds to FFRF. “We have addressed these requirements with this teacher who has indicated his understanding of the requirements and his commitment to them.”

FFRF commends the district for seriously addressing these constitutional concerns.

“We applaud the district’s timely action to stand up for its students’ rights of conscience,” comments FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Students cannot have freedom of religion without a school system that is free from religion."

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 30,000 members across the country, including over 1,600 members in New York. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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