A religious group has filed suit against the Kansas Board of Education seeking to stop educators from adopting global warming and evolution into the state curriculum. The Christian organization said such lessons would violate parents’ religious freedom.
The non-profit group, known as Citizens for Objective Public Education (COPE), has attacked Kansas along with 25 other states and the National Research Council for implementing new standards which mandate that mainstream science be taught in classrooms. COPE is based in the small town of Peck, Kansas, to the south of Wichita.
Fifteen parents and their 18 children joined the suit, with one telling the Associated Press they are Christians who want their children to believe “life is a creation made for a purpose.” The Kansas state Department of Education and the state board are named in the suit.
“The state’s job is simply to say to students, ‘How life arises continues to be a scientific mystery and there are competing ideas about it,’” said John Calvert, a local attorney involved in the case.
The evolution vs. creationism controversy was rendered irrelevant by scientists and the court system decades ago but the debate rages on in the US between religious groups, primarily Christians, and school administrators trying to keep education modern.
Joshua Rosenau, programs and policy director for the California-based National Center for Science Education, told AP that Calvert, the attorney arguing against the school, has been making such arguments for years, although “no one in the legal community has put much stock in it.”
“They’re trying to say anything that’s not promoting their religion is promoting some other religion,” he said, going on to deem the discussion “silly.”
Kansas in particular has a long history of conflict between creationists and the scientific community. In 2005, after a heated court battle, the Kansas Board of Education agreed to amend its scientific standard with a number of stipulations, one of which states "that evolution is a theory and not a fact.”
The suit in question claims that the Kansas public school system seeks to promote a “non-theistic religious worldview” by instructing students about Charles Darwin’s widely adopted theory.
Evolution, which he first proposed in the mid-19th Century, suggests that not all species can survive and that only those best able to survive in their environment will continue to exist. By that logic, humans and animals will adapt traits that allow them to thrive over time.
By including this material, COPE’s legal action says schools would be allowing “materialistic” and “atheistic” answers to scientific questions. Kansas would be “indoctrinating” students, which is in direct contrast to the First Amendment to the constitution, which guarantees an individual the right to celebrate their own religion without fear of persecution.
“By the time you get into the third grade, you learn all the essential elements of Darwinian evolution,” Calvert said. “By the time you’re in middle school you’re a Darwinist.”
Community members have spoken out against the suit, along with leaders in the scientific community and education activists. Even other religious groups have deemed the lawsuit a waste of time, calling it “frivolous.”
The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, which defines itself as an organization dedicated to defending and extending “god-given religious liberty” for all citizens, has even spoken out against the suit’s claims.
“Every time the public school science curriculum properly refuses to teach creationism, it is guilty of teaching a religious worldview? That makes no sense,” the group wrote on its website. “It sounds like proponents would prefer teaching no science at all.”