The National Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty (National PEARL) is a coalition of over fifty* grassroots, civic, educational and religious groups committed to maintaining the First Amendment's guarantee of separation of church and state in our nation's public schools. National PEARL believes that maintenance of the wall of separation helps to assure a strong public education system and safeguards religious liberty. National PEARL is committed to keeping the nation's public schools a safe haven for the nation's children, free of religious indoctrination and discrimination.
National PEARL opposes teaching creationism, in lieu of or as a "companion" theory to, theories of scientific evolution in public schools. There are several versions of creationism; all share the common view that life, matter, and the universe were designed and created by a divine creator/supreme spiritual being. According to many creationists, all life developed relatively recently. Creationism cannot be taught without reference to the religious ideology from which it springs, namely the account of Genesis in the Bible. Consequently, National PEARL holds that creationism is a form of religious belief.
The teaching of creationism in a public school amounts to use of state-financed, state-run schools to indoctrinate children in a particular set of religious beliefs. This is best demonstrated by the fact that when creationists demand creationism be taught, they insist on the exclusion or denigration of legitimate science. For example, the Louisiana state legislature's consideration of legislation in 1981 that prohibited "discrimination" against teaching creationism but did not prohibit "discrimination" against teaching evolution.
As A Matter of Education Policy
A host of thorny educational issues arise from teaching creationism. These problems generate strife among teachers, between teachers and administrators, students and teachers, parents and the school, parents and students, and among students. If creationism were taught in the schools, it would foment religious strife over the following issues:
Who writes the curriculum? How could a religious curriculum be monitored objectively? Could an administrator require a teacher to teach creationism? If students attempted to opt out of the lesson, how would they be graded, much less treated? What if a teacher refuses to teach creationism?
Teaching creationism would mean that a teacher could answer a student's questions by reference to the book of Genesis or materials that are designed to support a theory of creation that is consistent with Genesis. Teaching creationism in lieu of science could also open a Pandora's box by requiring teachers to teach other religious or less-than-scientific views of other topics, on the theory that if the Biblical treatment of an issue is permitted, all other religious treatment of other scientific issues must have "equal access" to student's minds to avoid inter-religious strife. Conceivably, a Wicca theory of fire, or the Aryan Nation's or the Church of the Creator's theories that God did not create all people equal because some, by virtue of their race, are inferior, or other views like these would have to be permitted in science classes if creationism were permitted.
As a result, students would be presented with a dizzying array of religious doctrines but would not have the scientific training necessary to evaluate them or compete with other students. Preparing students to be well-informed and well educated is the cornerstone of the public school system, and concomitantly, of a functioning democracy.
This is not a case of abrogation of teachers' academic freedom. Proponents of creationism incorrectly appropriate the notion of academic freedom to argue for the right to teach their religious views. Proponents of creationism cannot equate academic freedom with their intent to indoctrinate students in a public school. The fact is, teachers' academic and religious freedom is undermined when they are forced to teach religious doctrines in science class.
Notably, no major union of teachers, including the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, have ever characterized it in this manner. Most teachers are perfectly capable of simultaneously holding private, religious beliefs and teaching scientific evolution. In fact, teachers throughout the United States espouse the sentiment of the Louisiana Science Teachers Association, which stated in 1981 it considered creationism "to be outside the boundaries of bona fide science."
As a Matter of Law
Teaching creationism is impermissible as a matter of law, either in lieu of scientific evolution or as a "companion theory." In both contexts, it has continuously been found to violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because it puts government-run schools in the position of establishing religion by using their power to teach children compelled to attend school.
Precisely because the state would use its power, in the form of publicly financed schools, to further a particular religious doctrine, teaching creationism violates the major precept of the Establishment Clause, namely that "neither [a state nor a federal government] can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another.' Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1, 15 (1947). This kind of governmental support for private, religious belief and indoctrination goes against the philosophy of the Founding Fathers when they wrote the First Amendment. That such teachings are promulgated by legislative authorities, not educational experts, testifies to the reality that the real motivation and purpose is the advancement of a particular religious ideology.
Application of the most widely used legal test, known as Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971), to the practice of teaching creationism in public schools has found it unconstitutional. See Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987). Under Lemon, if a practice has a) a religious purpose, b) the effect of advancing religion, or c) it causes or necessitates entanglement of church and state officials to administer it, the practice violates the Establishment Clause.
Under the "endorsement" test, which courts often use in lieu of or in conjunction with the Lemon test, a practice is judged according to how much the state is perceived as endorsing religion. Teaching creationism obviously violates this test because the power of the state is used to endorse a particular religious belief. Furthermore, there is no way to "mitigate" the state's endorsement of the religious message. As PEARL founder and noted constitutional scholar Leo Pfeffer reflected, "In respect to those pupils who do understand what the teachers are saying, teaching creationism as being only a theory would violate the First Amendment's ban on inhibiting religion. To teach pupils that the account of Moses splitting the sea or Jesus walking on it is only a theory could hardly be reconciled with the Amendment's ban on the inhibition of religion. The last thing in the world fundamentalist Christians want is for public schools to teach that God's creation of the world or His relationship to Jesus, or Moses' receipt of the Ten Commandments from Him, are only theories."
Under the "coercion" test, which courts often use in lieu of or in conjunction with the Lemon test, the teaching of creationism in public schools also violates the Establishment Clause. First, children are compelled to attend public school; they cannot "opt out" of science class and assume they will pass statewide, year-end tests. Consequently, forcing students to listen to creationist lectures would use students' captive status coercively. By the very nature of creationist theory, and student questioning or challenging the theory would be put in the position of questioning the religious belief system behind it, and risking the chance of invoking the disapproval of a teacher who espouses the creationist perspective.
For all the foregoing reasons — educational and constitutional — creationism should not be taught in the public schools.
*American Association of School Administrators// American Association of University Women// American Civil Liberties Union// American Ethical Union, American Federation of Teachers// American Humanist Association// American Jewish Congress// Americans for Democratic Action// Americans for Religious Liberty// Americans United for Separation of Church & State (and Rochester Chapter)// Anti Defamation League// A. Philip Randolph Institute// Arizona Citizens Project// Association of Reform Rabbis of New York City & Vicinity// Baptist Joint Committee // Central Conference of American Rabbis// City Club of New York// Community Church of New York, Social Action Committee// Council of Churches of the City of New York// Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism// Council of Supervisors and Administrators// Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, Committee on Social Concerns & Peace// Episcopal Diocese of New York// Federation of Reconstructionist Congregations & Havurot// Freedom to Learn Network// Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia// Humanist Society of Metropolitan New York, Inc.// Institute for First Amendment Studies// League for Industrial Democracy, NYC Chapter// Michigan Council About Parochiaid// Minnesota Civil Liberties Union // Monroe County PEARL// National Council of Jewish Women (& New York Section)// National Center for Science Education// National Education Association// National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee// National PTA// New York Jewish Labor Committee// New York Society for Ethical Culture// New York State Congress of Parents and Teachers// New York State Council of Churches// New York State United Teachers// Ohio PEARL// Public Education Association// Union of American Hebrew Congregations (& New York Federation of Reform Synagogues)// Unitarian-Universalist Association// United Community Centers, Inc.// United Federation of Teachers// United Synagogues of America, New York Metropolitan Region// Washington Area Secular Humanists// Women's American O.R.T.// Women's City Club of NY, Inc.// Workmen's Circle, NY Division