'Intelligent Design' Movement Visits Capitol Hill
Advocates of "intelligent design" -- the latest version of "creation science" -- descended on Capitol Hill last month to explain their anti-evolution theories to sympathetic legislators and their staff.
The May 8 briefing was sponsored by the Center for the Renewal of Science & Culture, a project of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. Unlike conventional creationists, most intelligent design advocates admit that the Earth is ancient but still refuse to accept human evolution. They argue that human complexity requires a designer, i.e. God. A Discovery Institute press release maintained that teaching evolution undermines the culture and undercuts "the classic understanding of human dignity."
Although they work hard to keep religious rhetoric out of the materials they put before mass audiences, movement backers are less guarded when speaking before sympathetic crowds. Addressing a gathering of followers of TV preacher D. James Kennedy in February of 1999, the movement's chief architect, Phillip Johnson, a University of California at Berkeley law professor, stated upfront that his ultimate goal in undermining evolution is to persuade people to accept "the truth" of the Bible and be "introduced to Jesus."
The three-hour congressional briefing, titled "Scientific Evidence of Intelligent Design and its Implications for Public Policy and Education," featured speakers who bashed evolution and blamed the scientific theory for social ills.
Observers say the congressional appearance represents a shift in strategy for evolution opponents, who have traditionally targeted officials at the state and local level where most education decisions are made.
The Washington event was co-hosted by several members of Congress, including Reps. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), Charles Canady (R-Fla.), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas), Thomas Petri (R-Wis.), Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), Mark Souder (R-Ind.) and Charles Stenholm (D-Texas). Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) spoke at the gathering.
Senate Removes School Vouchers From Education Bill
In a blow to the hopes of "education choice" supporters, the U.S. Senate has deleted a provision from a major education funding bill that many believe would have opened the door to religious school vouchers.
At issue was Senate consideration of S. 2, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the federal government's largest school aid program. Senate Republicans vowed to make "flexibility" their top priority for the legislation, and sponsored a measure to give 15 states wide latitude in how to spend federal education funds including funding private school voucher plans. Opponents said a "portability" provision was a back-door attempt to finance private religious schools with public tax dollars.
To bring an end to the controversy, on May 3, Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) sponsored an amendment to prohibit the states that receive the federal aid from using the funds for vouchers. The final vote to prohibit vouchers was 98 to 0. (The lopsided tally came because the Republican leadership told GOP senators to support the measure to end a stalemate and push the larger bill forward. Senate voucher proponents are expected to try to add vouchers to other bills later.)
The move to prohibit vouchers from the legislation was applauded by the White House. "The answer to excellence for all our children is not to take money away from our schools through vouchers," President Bill Clinton told hundreds of students in Owensboro, Ky., the day after the Senate vote, "but to combine the money with high standards, accountability and the tools teachers, children and parents need to succeed."
Judge Bars Commandments In Kentucky Schools, Courts
A federal judge in Kentucky has ruled that Ten Commandments displays in courthouses and public schools violate church-state separation and must be removed.
On May 5, U.S. District Judge Jennifer B. Coffman announced that Commandments displays in the Pulaski and McCreary county courthouses and in the Harlan County public schools serve no secular purpose and must come down.
The counties had attempted to make the religious postings constitutional by displaying the Decalogue with historical documents such as an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence, President Ronald Reagan's 1983 proclamation of the Year of the Bible and the Mayflower Compact.
However, in her ACLU v. Pulaski County, ACLU v. McCreary County and ACLU v. Harlan County Public School District decisions, Coffman noted that the Ten Commandments is a "distinctly religious document" that contains "religious duties of believers." She also found that the additional documents were chosen because of their religious references, which "collectively have the overwhelming effect of endorsing religion."
The suit was brought by the ACLU on behalf of Paul Lee, a World War II veteran from Pulaksi County. "I want our Constitution to be preserved," Lee told the Associated Press. "I want everybody to have their fair share of religion, and they can have it according to the Constitution, but not by having the government say you have to have it."
One public official told reporters he is considering open defiance. "I said early on I would not remove them, and I will not," McCreary County Judge-Executive Jimmie Greene said. "I'll go to jail before I'll take them down.... This is one order I will not obey."
The Decalogue was removed, however, after a federal appeals court denied an emergency petition to keep it up during the ongoing litigation.
The Kentucky decision is the latest in a series of legal defeats for religious symbol boosters. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to order a public school district to allow the posting of a Ten Commandments advertisement at a baseball field.
Edward DiLoreto, a Southern California businessman, paid the Downey High School baseball booster club $400 to post the Commandments on an outfield fence in 1995. When the school rejected the ad, DiLoreto sued.
In November, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in DiLoreto v. Board of Education that the school's fence is "a forum limited to certain subjects and not open for indiscriminate use by the general public." As such, the panel held, DiLoreto's rights were not violated.
On April 17, the Supreme Court let that decision stand without comment.
Indiana Parochial School Hits Casino Jackpot
An Indiana county's decision to give a Roman Catholic school thousands of dollars generated by a casino may ultimately lead to a lawsuit from supporters of church-state separation.
On April 8, the Harrison County Council voted to allocate $52,000 to St. Joseph Catholic School for capital improvements, including a new roof and Internet access. The money comes from county revenue generated by the Caesars riverboat casino.
County council members who supported the effort justified the expenditure by insisting that the money was not generated by any direct tax on county residents and therefore should not be considered taxpayer dollars. First Amendment supporters note that public funds should not be given to private religious institutions.
"It would appear to me that that would be unconstitutional because you have public funds going directly to support a religious institution," Kenneth Falk, legal director for the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, told the Louisville Courier-Journal. "Caesars can share their revenue with churches, but once Caesars gives the money to the county, it becomes public money."
Buffalo Public Schools Review Policy On Religion
The Buffalo, N.Y., Public School District has begun examining whether religious activities at a local elementary school cross the legal line between church and state.
George Sax, a Buffalo resident, complained to the city's Board of Education after a televised news segment reported on religious activities at the Broadway Village Elementary Community School Annex. In particular, the report showed a school-sponsored religious assembly led by two local ministers.
The assembly in question was organized by the Revs. Eugene and Teriann Coplin, a husband-and-wife ministerial team who do counseling in the school. According to the Buffalo News, during the event for boys between the ages of 9 and 12, several speakers some of them former prison inmates told the students about how their lives changed due to their born-again faith in Jesus Christ.
The school's principal, Catherine Benjamin, told the News that the assembly was within the law because the ministers were not coercing the children into accepting any particular belief. Benjamin added that she hosts a daily prayer session with members of her staff before school begins.
Arizona Requires Declaration Preamble In Schools
Arizona Gov. Jane Hull (R) has signed legislation requiring students to recite a portion of the Declaration of Independence at the start of the school day, the latest strategy to bring religion into public schools.
Hull signed the bill April 24 after heavy lobbying by a local Religious Right group called the Center for Arizona Policy (CAP). The group successfully pushed to add the measure to the state's student handbook on morals and ethics. A CAP representative has already admitted the religious motivation behind its efforts.
"Now public school children will learn that there is truth, that their rights come from God and they did not evolve but were created," said CAP president Len Munsil, as quoted in the Family Research Council's CultureFacts newsletter.
State legislators in Alabama, Georgia, Missouri and New York also considered similar measures, but none became law.
Greece Removes Religion From Government Identity Cards
Government officials in Greece have ruled that state-issued identity cards will no longer list citizens' religious affiliation, infuriating leaders of the Orthodox Church who believe the move may be the first step toward separation of church and state.
On May 15, the Data Protection Authority ordered religion removed from the cards, which all Greek citizens over the age of 13 must carry. The authority also said the cards will no longer list the holder's nationality, occupation and the name of his or her spouse. New cards are due to be issued this month.
Archbishop Christodoulos, head of the Greek Orthodox Church, Greece's officially established state church, blasted the move and called for a national referendum on the issue. The archbishop claimed the church was being attacked by "rabid hounds intent on rending its flesh" and vowed defiance.
According to the Religion News Service, a church spokesman, Metropolitan Theoklitos, warned, "Orthodoxy...is an indivisible part of our identity, and we want it written on the identity cards. If the government accepts such a thing, there will be developments."
An estimated 98 percent of the Greek population are at least nominally members of the Greek Orthodox Church.