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High court turns away case on teaching evolution

By The Associated Press

01.07.02

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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court declined today to be drawn into a debate over the teaching of evolution in America's public schools.

The refusal is a victory for schools that require teachers to instruct on the subject even if the teacher disagrees with the scientific theory.

It's a loss for a Christian biology teacher in Minnesota who was reassigned amid questions about his views on evolution. Justices declined without comment to review Rodney LeVake's case, LeVake v. Independent School District No. 656.

"This case presents the court with an opportunity to reaffirm that public high school teachers are not First Amendment orphans," LeVake's attorney, Wayne B. Holstad, wrote in court filings.

LeVake briefly instructed his Minnesota high school students on the subject, but told a colleague that he had scientific doubts about Charles Darwin's view of species' gradual change. Evolution describes development of life on Earth from single-celled organisms over about 3.5 billion years.

When confronted by school leaders in 1998, he proposed offering students "an honest look at the difficulties and inconsistencies of the theory without turning my class into a religious one."

LeVake, who is a Christian, believes that God created the world in six days, a theory known as creationism. He was reassigned to a ninth-grade teaching job in the southern Minnesota town of Faribault, home to about 20,000 residents.

His case presented the Supreme Court an opportunity to revisit the debate over public school instruction on the origin of man. In its 1987 decision Edwards v. Aguillard, the justices struck down a Louisiana law that prohibited the teaching of evolution without equal time for creationism.

The school district argued that LeVake wanted permission to teach his own views.

"This court has never held that under the First Amendment, schools are the mere instruments of the advancement of the individual agendas of its teachers," Kay Nord Hunt wrote in court filings for the school.

LeVake, who has a master's degree in biology education, contends that his reassignment violated his constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

Holstad told justices that LeVake "was silenced, not for anything he said in the classroom, but merely for holding a contrary viewpoint and expressing a desire to say certain things which the school district deemed out of step with its officially imposed orthodoxy."

A judge had dismissed a lawsuit LeVake filed against the Faribault School District, and a Minnesota appeals courts upheld the dismissal. LeVake then appealed to the Supreme Court.

Previous

Minnesota appeals panel rebuffs teacher's bid to challenge evolution in classroom
Judges rule school district can require teacher to teach evolution even if he doesn’t accept theory.  05.09.01

Related

2001-2002 Supreme Court term coverage
Analysis and other coverage of the 2001-2002 U.S. Supreme Court term.  11.01.01

Evolution backers, foes face off over Ohio science standards
Both sides present arguments before state school board, which must approve new guidelines by year's end.  03.12.02

Supreme Court refuses to review evolution-disclaimer case
Louisiana school district had sought to require that teaching of evolution be accompanied by disclaimer mentioning 'the biblical version of creation.'  06.19.00

Georgia district OKs teaching competing theories on origin of life
Opponents say decision opens back door to letting religion into classrooms; vote won't end debate.  09.27.02

Ohio school board to allow teaching evolution, alternative theories
Panel votes to adopt guidelines that put into writing what many school districts in state already do — teach evolution but also explain that there is debate over the origin of life.  10.15.02

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