The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging an Arkansas school district to investigate claims made in the Legislature that one of its teachers has been unconstitutionally teaching creationism.
During a recent Arkansas Senate Education Committee hearing on HB 1701, which would have permitted the teaching of creationism in public schools, state Sen. James Sturch, a teacher at Southside Charter High School in Batesville, Ark., said:
So, is my biology teacher down the hall breaking the state law because he’s already teaching creationalism [sic]...What is currently allowed for them to do as far as teaching theories? Is there any guidance at all? So what do the standards say, or what to the standards allow teachers to do? It’s just, I eat lunch with the biology teacher down the hall when I’m there, everyday, and, you know, I know that he doesn’t believe in the evolution theory, yet he teaches both. He teaches both the creationalism theory and the evolution theory, one right after the other. He treats them both equally. He lets the kids have the discussion, and lets the kids kind of decide on their own which is more feasible and to me that was always the right approach. It’s just, as I said, I am not against this, as far as that goes, it's just that I want to make sure that we’re not going to limit that.
Thankfully for Arkansas students, parents and taxpayers, HB 1701 died in committee after FFRF announced it plans to sue should it be passed into law. But Sturch’s claim that Southside School District students are being subjected to illegal religious indoctrination raises serious alarm.
FFRF has written a letter of complaint to Southside Superintendent Roger Rich, alerting the district to the impermissibility of teaching creationism in its schools. The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently ruled that teaching creationism is teaching religion and therefore in violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.
“Teaching creationism or any of its offshoots, such as intelligent design, in a public school is unlawful, because creationism is not based in fact,” writes FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line to Rich. “Courts have routinely found that such teachings are religious, despite many new and imaginative labels given to the alternatives.”
FFRF also sent a letter to Sturch to educate him on federal law surrounding teaching creationism. Line writes:
“To answer your question, it is irrelevant whether the biology teacher you work with is violating state law by teaching creationism because it is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and this has been clear for decades. Arkansas specifically has a history of losing in court while attempting to defend creationism, in various forms, in public schools.”
The district must take immediate action, FFRF emphasizes, to ensure that the teacher Sturch was making a reference to does not continue his alienating and illegal practice of teaching creationism to a captive audience of public school students.
“Evolution, like gravity, is a scientific fact,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “No controversy exists in the scientific community regarding the fact of evolution, and the teaching of alternative theories or a controversy is not only inappropriate and dishonest, it is unconstitutional.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 35,000 members across the country, including members in Arkansas. Its purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.