Kansas GOP Voters Remove Creationists From School Board
A controversial Kansas policy downplaying evolution in the public schools may soon go the way of the dinosaur.
The change is coming thanks to Republican voters in Kansas, who went to the polls Aug. 1 and removed two creationists from the state Board of Education. The shake-up means that creationists are about to lose their majority on the board.
All of the Republican moderates who won will face Democratic challengers in November. But since Kansas is a solidly Republican state, the GOP moderates are expected to win. (None of the Democrats seeking office are creationists.) The moderates have pledged that once seated, they will vote to overturn a controversial policy the board passed last year that downplays the importance of evolution in science standards.
Board members became the focus of national and international attention last summer after they voted 6-4 to remove references to the age of the Earth, the Big Bang theory and evolution from the state science standards. Although teaching of evolution was not forbidden in Kansas schools, critics said it was downplayed so much that the state looked backward. To make matters worse, after the board took the action, several members who supported the policy said they don't accept evolution and indicated their support for creationism.
The anti-evolution vote galvanized Republican moderates who vowed to run a slate of candidates in the primary. In two closely watched races, moderate Sue Gamble of suburban Kansas City trounced incumbent Linda Holloway, 60 percent to 40 percent. In Wichita, the results were closer, with moderate Carol Rupe edging out Mary Douglass Brown 52 percent to 48 percent.
In the Salina area, moderate Bruce Wyatt, an attorney, defeated creationist Brad Angell, a former teacher, 58 percent to 42 percent, for an open seat. The only creationist to retain his seat was Steve Abrams, a veterinarian from Arkansas City, who easily defeated former school superintendent Roger Rankin, 62 percent to 38 percent.
Abrams, who helped draft the anti-evolution standards, told the Associated Press he could not explain the results. Holloway complained that she had been tarred as an extremist, telling the Kansas City Star, "Unfortunately, propaganda still works. The campaign against me has been going on for over a year."
Phillip E. Johnson, a University of California at Berkeley law professor and leading proponent of the "intelligent design" school of creationism, blamed the loss on the media.
"I think that the academics and the journalists succeeded pretty well in embarrassing the people of Kansas," Johnson told The New York Times, "And there was a sense that, 'people are laughing at us, people think we're rubes, industry doesn't want to come here anymore.' This is very heavy-handed intimidation."
But observers said many Kansans were weary of a board whose ignorance of the basics of evolutionary science had made the state a national laughingstock. They noted that just days before the election, Brown told The New York Times she rejects human evolution because, "I don't believe that humans descended from apes, no. How come there's still apes running around loose and there are humans? Why did some of them decide to evolve and some did not?"
Although Brown's race was closer, the Holloway-Gamble contest had been more closely watched and became the target of national media attention. It turned out to be the most expensive in state school board history. In the end, Holloway raised about $90,000 nearly three times more than Gamble. Gamble, however, walked door to door in the district and attributed her victory to old-fashioned legwork.
The day after the election, Gamble said changes are coming. "We expect to have a very busy January," she said. "This has been a bone of contention among all of us as we've talked over the past several months."
But the creationists have vowed to stay in the fight as well and will front candidates when five more seats on the board come up for grabs in 2002.
Despite the loss, John Morris, president of the Institute for Creation Research in San Diego, insisted his side has the momentum. "There's a resentment of the education elite," he said. "I think that's an undercurrent that's undersold. The creation message is getting better and better than ever. It will never go back to the way it was, when people go back to doing what the education elite say never again."
New Study Shows Money Makes A Difference In Public School Reform
A new national study has been released showing the best ways to reform public education and vouchers is not one of them.
Small class sizes in early grades, better academic instruction in the pre-kindergarten years and more money make a real difference, says the study, undertaken by the Rand Corporation, a public policy group based in Santa Monica, Calif.
Rand analyzed standardized test results and census data in every state to prepare the report. The report's author, David Grissmer, concluded that public education is reformable if monetary resources are properly allocated. "Five years ago, we were unsure whether reform in the states was working and if spending more money would make any difference in educational outcomes," Grissmer told The New York Times. "We see gains in some states from reform efforts, and we see that resources, if they're properly targeted, can be very effective at raising achievement."
Grissmer noted that poor and minority students, who traditionally lag behind in standardized testing, can improve with smaller class sizes and pre-kindergarten instruction. Factors that do not seem to make a difference in student performance include the use of teachers aides in regular-sized classrooms, teachers with advanced degrees or higher teacher salaries.
Grissmer's study also challenged the common assumption among voucher advocates that public education is failing nationwide. In fact, the Rand report notes that student math scores have increased across the country, especially in North Carolina, Michigan, Texas, Indiana and Maryland. (For more information about the report, visit www.rand.org.)
In other news about public education and vouchers:
Researcher Gerald Bracey, who frequently debunks voucher proponents' propaganda about "failing" public schools, has compiled some of his best data on a website. Visitors to the site, www.america-tomorrow.com/bracey/ EDDRA/, can find information proving that American public schools are performing better than voucher advocates and the Religious Right say.
New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (R), says the state's new rating system for public schools will fuel the demand for vouchers. Johnson, speaking in July at a symposium on school choice sponsored by pro-voucher groups, said the rating system will reveal that "hundreds of schools" in the state are failing. "It will certainly add fuel to parents wanting [vouchers] to improve schools," Johnson said.
But Michael Davis, superintendent of public instruction, has stated that he expects no more than 100 schools in the state to be rated "probationary" under the new system.
Johnson has tried repeatedly to push voucher legislation through the state legislature, but lawmakers have voted it down.
Archbishop Edward M. Egan, the new Catholic prelate of New York City, has wasted no time endorsing vouchers. Egan was appointed to the post after the death of Cardinal John O'Connor earlier this year. He called for a voucher plan during his first press conference June 19.
"Who in the world says that all the taxpayers' the parents' money must be only for a specific kind of culture being taught?" Egan asked. He asserted that public schools often teach values contrary to Catholicism and pledged to work for vouchers in New York.
Naked Statue Of Greek God Horrifies Calif. Home Schoolers
Attendees of a home schooling convention in Sacramento were so offended by a seven-foot tall, naked bronze statue of the Greek god Poseidon that they dressed him in an entire outfit, including a necktie.
Parents attending the Advanced Training Institute International's home schooling convention at the Sacramento Convention Center in early July had received permission from city officials to clothe the statue during the three-day event. On day one they dressed him in a toga, on day two in a golf shirt and khaki trousers and on day three in slacks, a dress shirt and a tie.
"In a store, when you have pornography on a shelf, a decent store owner would cover it up," Richard Barb, a conference organizer, told The Sacramento Bee. "Here, we actually set it in place and ask people to stare at it."
Jim Voeller, director of the Advanced Training Institute, added, "A lot of the parents would object to the display of public nudity. We didn't deface the statue, and we got permission to cover it for the conference."
The Poseidon statue, which is displayed in a public park between the convention center and a community theater, was a gift to the city from the government of Greece in 1972. It is a replica of a famous statue that appears in the National Archeological Museum in Athens.
Not all Sacramento residents were happy to see Poseidon in britches, and during the conference, the statue was repeatedly undressed. One downtown office worker, Eric Ford, was caught removing Poseidon's pants by a conference official. Ford later told the Bee, "That statue is for the whole city, not for them. You don't go to a city and decide to change the city's artwork because you think it is not appropriate." As a form of protest, Ford and a colleague later removed the necktie from Poseidon and use it to blindfold the statue.
City officials defended the decision to put Poseidon in duds. Steve Hammond, president of the convention bureau, said the home schoolers had brought a lot of money to the city. As for Poseidon's attire, Hammond remarked, "I thought it was done in very good taste. The statue is still there, and these people brought a huge piece of business that has had great impact on our community. When visitors come to town and make a simple request, we try to fulfill that request."
Sacramento isn't the only place where Religious Right activists are being bothered by seemingly harmless displays of nudity. In Onalaska, Wisc., a parent recently complained about a 1993 edition of Hans Christian Anderson's classic fairy tale "The Little Mermaid" because some of the illustrations show the title character without a top.
The La Crosse Tribune reported that parent Linda Carlson, who has two children attending Eagle Bluff Elementary School, requested that the book be removed from the school library. In the book, the Little Mermaid appears topless in some illustrations, although her long hair covers her chest. Carlson said the book was "suggestive" and recommended it be transferred to the middle school or high school.
A school district committee considered the request but voted unanimously to keep the book in the library.
Colo. County School Board Rejects Overture To Post 'In God We Trust'
The Jefferson County Board of Education, representing Colorado's largest school district, voted unanimously Aug. 10 to reject a proposal to display "In God We Trust" posters in the district's 145 schools.
Before the 5-0 vote, Scott Schneider, a parent of two public school students and a member of Americans United, told board members that public schools have no business promoting religion. "I think it is unfortunate that this is even an issue," Schneider told the board members. He added, "No one is better qualified than me to provide religious instruction" to his children.
Prior to the vote, Americans United's Legal Department and Colorado Chapter wrote to Jefferson County board members, urging them to reject the religious proposal. "At best, it is an insincere effort to manipulate patriotic sentiments to achieve a religious goal," said AU Legal Director Steven K. Green and AU Chapter President Steve Sand. "At worst, it will result in school endorsement of religion in the minds of school children, thus violating the principle of separation of church and state."
The initiative to post the religious phrase was begun by the Rev. Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association, a Religious Right group based in Tupelo, Miss. Wildmon, president of the AFA, published a column in the March 2000 issue of the AFA Journal asking his followers across the country to push the scheme and purchase 11 x 14-inch posters from him with the words "In God We Trust." The signs are selling at the rate of three for $10.
The Colorado State Board of Education became the first government body to endorse the AFA approach, when it voted 5-1 July 6 to approve a resolution urging public schools to post the phrase "In God We Trust." The campaign took on a national significance when the U.S. House of Representatives voted July 24 to encourage display of the religious motto in public buildings.
Americans United hailed the vote by the Jefferson County board. "The proposal was a thinly veiled attempt to undercut the religious neutrality of public schools and circumvent the Supreme Court's rulings on church-state separation," remarked Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn. "The board was clearly right to vote it down."
In other news about government display of religious symbols:
Placement of a large stone tablet bearing the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Kentucky Capitol would violate the separation of church and state, a federal court has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Joseph Hood ruled July 25 from the bench that the monument must come down. "I think the purpose of this is not secular, but I think it is religious," said the judge. Hood later issued a written opinion asserting that government display of the tablet does not have a secular purpose. He said the primary effect of the action is not secular and that it would foster government entanglement with religion.
The monument was originally erected in 1971 after it was donated to the state by the Fraternal Order of Eagles. It was removed in 1988 to make way for a new heating and cooling plant. Earlier this year the Kentucky legislature passed a resolution calling on the state to get the tablet out of storage and erect it on the capitol lawn in Frankfort.
State Rep. Tom Riner (D-Louisville), who sponsored the resolution, said he disagrees with the court's ruling. "The intent of this legislature was not to indoctrinate the young people or the citizens of the commonwealth but simply to give credit to the source of our statutes historically," he said. (Adland v. Russ)
A federal court has issued a temporary injunction barring the display of the Ten Commandments at the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis. U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker issued the order July 28, holding that the display of the Decalogue lacked a secular purpose.
A Ten Commandments plaque had been displayed at the statehouse since 1958 but was removed in 1991 after it was vandalized. Earlier this year, lawmakers passed a bill requiring the display of the Ten Commandments along with the Bill of Rights and the Preamble to the Constitution. Legislators argued that including the other elements would make the display educational, not religious.
The Indiana Civil Liberties Union is sponsoring the legal challenge. Government officials in Indiana plan to appeal. (Indiana Civil Liberties Union v. O'Bannon)
Government officials in Hawaii have removed wooden crosses that were erected at the entrance to a state park to memorialize eight people who were killed in a rockslide in May of 1999. The white, three-foot high crosses at Sacred Falls Park were placed there by a relative of one of the victims. They were removed after complaints from a local Americans United member.
Robertson And Allies Scheme To Bring Liberian Dictator To America
TV preacher Pat Robertson and his allies in Virginia Beach are working to bring Liberian president Charles Taylor and his wife to the United States, even though Taylor is accused of masterminding a bloody civil war that has left thousands dead.
Robertson, working with the Rev. John Gimenez of the Rock Church, tried to arrange a visit by Taylor's wife, Madam Jewel Howard Taylor, to Virginia Beach in June. The visit fell through at the last minute after the death of Liberia's vice president a death that Charles Taylor is accused of having arranged.
Taylor is also accused of bankrolling rebels in nearby Sierra Leone, sparking a brutal civil war that has left thousands dead. But Gimenez told the Virginian Pilot newspaper that he does not believe U.S. State Department reports that accuse Taylor of backing the war in Sierra Leone. Those rebels, according to the State Department, have raped and murdered thousands of civilians in Sierra Leone and committed numerous other atrocities, including forcing children as young as 10 to join their army.
Gimenez, who has branches of his church in Liberia, admits that Taylor is not the most honorable world leader but adds, "The State Department is not the Bible. If I hobnob with Taylor, it's because he needs Jesus....If the devil was the president, we'd still go there."
Even reports that Taylor arranged the murder of Liberian opposition leader Samuel Dokie in 1997 have not shaken Gimenez's faith in the man. He told the paper, "It was terrible what happened to Dokie. His wife, who was a wonderful lady, they just chopped her up in pieces...Even Dokie's children believe Taylor did it. I don't know one way or the other.... It could have been him. I'm not saying he didn't do it. Dokie was very vocal against Taylor in the elections. If Taylor was behind it, nobody knows."
Despite Taylor's record, Gimenez and Robertson persuaded Norfolk City Councilman G. Conoly Phillips to co-sponsor the visit by Madam Jewel. Other sponsors of the event were to be Gimenez's church and Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network. During the visit, Madam Jewel was slated to make an appearance at Robertson's Regent University.
Gimenez is responsible for introducing Robertson to Taylor. Robertson later invested in a gold-mining operation in the country's Bukon Jedeh region.
Natives of Sierra Leone and Liberia who live in Virginia were appalled at the proposed visit. "It's identifying the city with a mass murderer," said Jimmy Kandeh, a Sierra Leone native and professor of political science at the University of Richmond. "I can't believe any Christian or churchgoing person would want him in their midst."
George H. Nubo, managing editor of a Liberian newsmagazine told the Virginian Pilot, "The rightful place for him [Taylor] is the war crimes tribunal, not in Norfolk."
Missionaries who have traveled in Liberia say Taylor has ruined the country. The Rev. Jeri Bishop, a Methodist minister who was in the country last May, said many people live in the rubble of their homes or in tents outside. Only a few government buildings and Taylor's palaces remain undamaged in the capital.
"The people there, they're scared to death of him," Bishop said of Taylor. "I find it difficult that the church is going to hail this man who began such a brutal war in Liberia."
Virginia School District Delays Bible Class After AU Warning
A public school district in rural Virginia has delayed instituting a "Bible as History and Literature" course after Americans United warned that the move could spark a lawsuit.
The Surry School Board approved the Bible class in May as part of the system's elective offerings for the 2000-01 school year. The action was taken after community residents circulated petitions in local churches requesting that such a class be offered.
One month later the board backed down and voted to suspend the course indefinitely. Superintendent LaVerne Daniels complained that "outside meddlers" have spiked the plan, remarking, "We are a small, rural county. The private interest groups can fight longer and harder than we can."
Daniels was referring to Americans United. AU attorney Margaret F. Garrett wrote to the board June 12 after the organization learned that a Bible course published by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools was under consideration.
Americans United does not oppose objective study about the Bible in school but believes that the National Council's curriculum is essentially a Sunday school course. The group, which has close ties to TV preacher D. James Kennedy, promotes a historically inaccurate "Christian nation" view of U.S. history and opposes separation of church and state.
In her letter to the board, AU's Garrett noted the National Council's track record and wrote, "I recognize that the Bible has considerable significance in Western literature and history, and that it therefore has a proper role in public school study. However, experience demonstrates that there are enormous risks inherent in offering an elementary or secondary level course that is devoted exclusively to the Bible (as opposed to the full diversity of the world's religions). I have even greater concern here because the organization behind the effort to have the course added to your curricula has a demonstrated agenda that is inconsistent with constitutional requirements."
The Becket Fund, a conservative, Roman Catholic-oriented legal group, offered to help the board craft a Bible course that it claims will pass constitutional requirements and vowed to defend the course in court if necessary.
In other news about religion and public schools:
U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) has urged the Democratic and Republican parties to add language to their platforms advocating the addition of a school prayer amendment to the Constitution. Byrd said he is discouraged by the Supreme Court's recent ruling striking down coercive prayers before public school football games in Texas. He called the ruling an "ingrained predisposition against expressions of religious or spiritual belief" and said it is "wrong-headed, destructive and completely contrary to the intent of the Founders of this great nation."
Public school officials in Chicago have removed a controversial abstinence program tied to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. Critics charged that the program, sponsored by the Pure Love Alliance, was medically inaccurate and based on fear tactics. Others charged that the program taught "absolute sex," a term found in Unification theology.
Robert Kittle, president of the Pure Love Alliance, denied the group teaches "absolute sex," though he conceded the term appears in some of its publications. Kittle, a Unification Church member, also said the program does not aim to proselytize or convert anyone. He blamed the decision to remove the program on religious bigotry.
Officials with the Alliance have kicked off a promotional tour featuring 300 teenagers who have taken vows of celibacy until marriage. The group says it hopes to have its curriculum in schools in all 50 states by next year.
An Alabama man who complained about religious activity in a local high school says he's facing economic retaliation. Greg Thomas of Hamilton, in rural northwest Alabama, is a convert to Judaism who protested an evangelical Christian rally that took place at Hamilton High School in April of 1999. During the event, a local evangelist prayed, "We are claiming this place for the kingdom of God, that Jesus will be exalted over Hamilton High School and Middle School." The event took place during school hours, but attendance was optional.
Thomas says after he complained, people stopped coming to plays he staged at the community theater, which also led to him losing his other job as a drama teacher at a local two-year college. He has decided to move out of town.
"I rocked the boat, and I guess that's the price you pay," Thomas told the Birmingham Post-Herald.
Religious groups in Chicago dropped plans to pass out book covers bearing the Ten Commandments on school property last month. Members of a group called Total Living Network had hoped to distribute thousands of the covers to children in front of Von Humboldt Elementary School. They agreed to move the event to non-school property after receiving a call from Public Schools Chief Paul Vallas.
Vallas made it clear he supports the distribution. "The Ten Commandments are a universal value system," he told the Chicago Sun-Times. "What's wrong with the Ten Commandments? Who has a problem with 'Thou shalt not kill?'"
AU Reports Philadelphia Church For Endorsing Bush During GOP Convention
A Philadelphia church may have violated federal tax law when its pastor endorsed George W. Bush from the pulpit of his church during the Republican National Convention July 31, says Americans United.
On the opening night of the convention, the Rev. Herbert Lusk of Greater Exodus Baptist Church was broadcast into the convention hall via satellite hookup. Lusk, speaking from his church in North Philadelphia, addressed the cheering delegates and said, "We are supporting Gov. Bush, and we are supporting him because we know that he understands that we must give faith a chance."
Later Lusk added, "Mr. Bush, we are praying for you. Keep the faith. We love you. And we love you because we know that you have a testimony."
In an Aug. 1 letter to Charles O. Rossotti, commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn requested an investigation.
"It appears that Rev. Lusk has violated federal tax law by announcing that 'we' meaning his church are supporting candidate Bush," Lynn wrote. "This seems to be a blatant violation of IRS regulations banning intervention in partisan politics by non-profit groups. Accordingly, I urge you to conduct an investigation into the statements of Rev. Lusk at Greater Exodus Baptist and take whatever steps you deem necessary to make certain that this church obeys the law."
Federal tax law states that churches and other non-profit groups holding a 501(c)(3) status may not endorse or oppose candidates for public office. Groups that violate the standard can lose their tax-exempt status. Americans United runs a regular election-year program called "Project Fair Play" that seeks to educate churches about this aspect of federal tax law. The organization also reports serious violations to the IRS.
"Rev. Lusk is free to endorse any candidate he wants as a private citizen," Lynn said. "But in his official role as pastor of a church he must refrain from engaging in partisan politicking. I hope the IRS takes swift action to correct this outrageous abuse."
Lynn noted that AU's Project Fair Play is non-partisan. Last February, for example, the organization reported a New York church whose pastor, the Rev. Floyd Flake, endorsed Vice President Al Gore from his pulpit.
Robertson Rallies Christian Coalition During GOP Convention
Speaking to a rally of Religious Right activists during the Republican Party convention, TV preacher Pat Robertson promised that his Christian Coalition will help elect a "born again" president this year who will change the Supreme Court and bring church and state closer together.
Robertson, who attended the convention as a GOP delegate from Virginia, addressed a crowd estimated to be about 2,000 on Aug. 1, the second day of the convention in Philadelphia. The television evangelist called the report of the Coalition's death "premature" and said his goal is to elect a "born-again man" to the White House.
"We're just before seeing that goal realized this year," Robertson told the cheering crowd. "We have a candidate for the Republican Party who has promised to appoint justices who will uphold the original intentions of the framers of the Constitution."
Observed Robertson, "We need to have the election of a man who will appoint righteous judges to the Supreme Court of the United States." He called for overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 high court ruling legalizing abortion, and said he was motivated to get involved in politics because of court rulings banning official school prayer.
Although Robertson did not mention Republican hopeful George W. Bush by name, his comments were a clear endorsement of the GOP nominee. Robertson has been a Bush backer from early on and frequently blasted Bush's main primary opponent, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
"We at the Christian Coalition are pledging today in the days ahead that we're going to fight," he told the crowd. "Let's mobilize for a great crusade this fall!"
The rally featured a video display of Jesus with arms outstretched, superimposed on a large American flag.
Robertson's Coalition has been on the ropes lately but may be poised for a comeback. After the rally, Michael Russell, a Coalition spokesman, conceded to The Washington Post that the last few years have been hard on the group, which has been plagued with a budget deficit, collapsing chapters and an exodus of top staff.
"There's no question the organization has gone through a pretty painful period," Russell said. "But we're on the way to getting the organization turned back around."
Roberta Combs, the Coalition's executive vice president, denied that the group is in decline but told The Post, "We are in the rebuilding stage....The body has to regenerate new blood cells."
To help Bush win, Robertson seems determined to downplay some of the harsh social conservative views he has championed in the past. Although he has frequently blasted legal abortion and called for banning the procedure, Robertson now says his position is the same as Bush's he favors exceptions in the cases of rape, incest or a threat to the life of the mother.
Robertson told CNN's "Evans, Novak, Hunt and Shields" program Aug. 5, "That's been my position all along. Rape, incest and the life of the mother would be a carve-out. I know some in the pro-life position think there should be no exception because if they figure abortion is murder, then they shouldn't have any murder, but I have certainly been willing in a political statement to say we would make those exceptions. That doesn't offend me at all."
Delaware Clergy Turn Mayoral Race Into Revival Meeting
A group of clergy in Wilmington, Del., last month launched a special church-based project to re-elect Mayor James H. Sills.
The group, called Ministers for Sills, announced it would sponsor five "revivals" on consecutive nights to rally support for Sills at local churches. The plan called for ministers to speak on Sills' behalf in each other's pulpits.
Americans United protested the plan, which led some of the participating churches to drop out of the event. The ministers also announced that the churches would be paid rent for use of their facilities. The final night's "revival" was moved from a church to a hotel.
Local clergy insisted they had done nothing wrong. "We're not doing anything that churches haven't done in cities for mayors all across the nation," said the Rev. Lawrence Wright, a member of Ministers for Sills. Wright pointed out that the group held similar rallies for Sills in 1996.
Members of the group blasted Americans United for criticizing the events. One local minister appeared on a cable-access program Aug. 13 and called the opponents of the plan ungodly people doing the work of the devil.
On Aug. 15, Americans United Associate Field Director the Rev. Cedric Harmon traveled to Wilmington for a press conference at the Louis L. Redding City-County Building. Harmon reminded religious leaders that federal tax law forbids churches and other non-profit organizations from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office and called for all houses of worship to obey the laws of the land.