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West Virginia school board dumps resolution supporting creationism

Jeremy Leaming
First Amendment Center

12.20.99

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A West Virginia public school board has voted against a resolution that would have allowed creationism to be taught in district schools.

The Kanawha County Board of Education voted 4-1 on Dec. 16 to reject a resolution allowing public school teachers to teach the religious belief that God created the world in seven days. The vote, however, came after hours of discussion in a packed county auditorium, in which Charles Darwin was referred to as a racist and Jesus Christ was lauded as the only truth-teller the universe has known.

The Kanawha County debate on evolution in the classrooms started last month when school board member Betty Jarvis introduced the resolution and started lobbying board and community members to support it. Jarvis was the only board member to vote for the measure.

According to the Charleston Gazette, most of the 175 citizens in attendance spoke in favor of Jarvis' resolution. Randy Wilson, a Baptist preacher, implored the school board to adopt the resolution.

"Jesus Christ said the truth will make you free," Wilson said at the public meeting. "We're simply asking you to allow our children to hear the truth, not the lies of evolution."

Apparently, the majority of the board was concerned about lawsuits that the resolution could have drawn if passed. Days before the vote, board members received letters from two civil rights groups. The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia and Americans United for Separation of Church and State threatened legal action if the board adopted the resolution. The resolution states, in part, that "teachers should be afforded the opportunity to teach subjects and theories which are controversial in nature" and "they may teach any and all subjects and theories in their respective subject areas, including, but not limited to, theories for and against the theory of evolution."

In its Dec. 13 letter to the county superintendent and school board members, Americans United cited Supreme Court decisions that invalidated several government attempts to teach creationism alongside scientific theories.

"The upshot of these cases is that creation science cannot be taught in the public schools," the group said. "The proposed resolution would essentially grant permission to teachers to violate this constitutional principle. By granting this permission, the board would become legally responsible for each and every incident in which a teacher elects to include creation science in his or her teachings."

In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a Louisiana "Creationism Act" for attempting to advance Christianity in the public schools. The act forbade the teaching of evolution there unless creationism was also taught.

"The Louisiana Creationism Act advances a religious doctrine by requiring either the banishment of the theory of evolution from public school classrooms or the presentation of a religious viewpoint that rejects evolution in its entirety," Justice William Brennan wrote for the majority in Edwards v. Aguillard. "The Act violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because it seeks to employ the symbolic and financial support of government to achieve a religious purpose."

Steve Benen, a spokesman and writer for Americans United, told free! that had the board adopted the resolution it would have "invited litigation that it would likely lose."

"A majority of the board recognized that public school science classes are for science, not religion," Benen said. "Teaching pseudo-science is simply unacceptable. Students in Kanawha County and everywhere else deserve the best possible education. Some in Kanawha County may not like it, but that means teaching evolution."

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