February 2000 People & Events

Kansas Science Policy Came From Religious Group, Critics Charge

Controversial science standards adopted by the Kansas State School Board last summer came from a creationist group that considers itself a religious ministry, critics have charged.

Members of Kansas Citizens for Science (KCFS), a group formed to oppose the new standards, say the anti-evolution policy was authored by Tom Willis, president of the Creation Science Association of Mid-America.

The Kansas board captured national attention Aug. 11 when it voted 6-4 to remove the study of evolution from the state's science standards. Evolution opponents on the board insisted that they drafted the new standards. Board member Scott Hill later remarked, "As the primary author of the compromise standards that were passed, I guarantee that it was not input from fundamentalist religious zealots that did the work."

However, KCFS members tracked down an early version of the standards prepared by Willis and his Citizens Drafting Committee. The Willis draft contained verbatim 40 of 42 items that were eventually included in the standards. The group also uncovered evidence that drafts of the standards were shipped back and forth between Hill, Willis and Steve Abrams, another board member who opposes evolution.

KCFS noted that creationists took credit for the new Kansas policy on their website, writing that their "citizens drafting committee had an unprecedented opportunity to assist members of the Kansas School Board in the development of new Science Curriculum Standards....The Citizens Drafting Committee prepared several drafts of the proposed Kansas Science Standards...."

The pro-evolution group also noted that a new creationist book on the controversy titled Kansas Tornado states flatly that the standards were drafted at Willis' house in Missouri and that Abrams agreed to submit them under his own name. (Willis's Creation Science Association for Mid-America, based in Cleveland, Mo., says "biblical creation" is "the only 'scientific' explanation of origins.")

KCFS members Jack Krebs and Steve Case presented their evidence to the board at a December meeting. "Allowing the creationists to alter the standards in this way is a serious violation in spirit of the separation of church and state," Krebs told the board.

On Dec. 7, the board voted 9-1 to send the standards out for independent review. KCFS members criticized the move as a waste of time and money. Creationism, Krebs noted, is clearly intended to promote a sectarian view.

"By eliminating all standards which contradict Genesis and by inserting many examples that bolster a creationist view, the board has accommodated the religious views of these creationists at the expense of scientific knowledge that is considered essential and accurate worldwide," he said.

States Face Avalanche Of Bills Affecting Church And State, Reports AU

State legislatures are considering a large number of bills that threaten church-state separation, according to a new survey by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Vouchers and other forms of religious school aid are pending in 24 states. "Charitable choice" bills that subsidize church-run social services are expected in eight. Eleven states face efforts to allow the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools or other government buildings, and 15 states are weighing measures dealing with prayer or other religion-in-schools issues. Proposals that would water down the teaching of evolution or introduce creationism are pending in five states.

The AU analysis of bills affecting church-state relations includes measures that have been pre-filed, already introduced in legislatures or that are strongly expected. The state-by-state survey was undertaken by Ann Mulligan, Americans United's states legislative coordinator.

"It's going to be a busy year," Mulligan remarked. "Americans United will face a variety of church-state problems in legislatures across the nation. We will definitely have to call on our members to help us educate lawmakers about these dangerous proposals and why they violate the separation of church and state."

Mulligan noted that only six states do not have legislative sessions this year --Arkansas, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon and Texas. All other states face at least one bill that presents church-state problems, although many states face several problems. Some of the states with multiple bills include Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Colorado.

Mulligan urged Americans United members to keep abreast of current developments in their own states by checking on the status of church-state legislation through AU's website: www.au.org.

W. Va. School Board Supports Evolution

Members of the Kanawha County (W. Va.) School Board have voted 4-1 to reject a resolution intended to undercut evolution instruction in science classes.

On Dec. 16, the board rejected demands from a local Baptist minister and his allies that the study of evolution be curtailed in Kanawha County's schools. The Rev. Randy Wilson, pastor of Esta Baptist Church in Witcher Creek, told the board, "Jesus Christ said the truth will make you free. We're simply asking you to allow our children to hear the truth, not the lies of evolution."

The board listened to public comment on the matter for more than four hours. The Charleston Gazette reported that about 175 people packed the meeting room, some spilling into the hallway. About 60 percent spoke in favor of the anti-evolution policy.

"Evolution is a fraud," said Richard Carvell, a county resident. "It is a cult. It is a disgrace to teach in our schools. There's a scandal going on in the Kanawha County school system." Other speakers linked the theory of evolution to Adolf Hitler and Karl Marx. One speaker called Charles Darwin a "racist."

But several supporters of church-state separation were also vocal. "I don't want someone else teaching my child religion," said the Rev. Karl Rattan, rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Charleston. "That's my job as a parent. Creationism is not science. It is not based on science. It is based on faith."

The resolution, which would have allowed teachers to offer "theories for and against the theories of evolution," was introduced by board member Betty Jarvis. Jarvis acted at the request of Karl Priest, a math teacher at Andrew Jackson Middle School who opposes evolution. Priest attended the Dec. 16 meeting wearing an ape mask.

In the end, Jarvis was the only board member to vote for the resolution. She called it potentially the "most important" thing she has done during her time on the board. During the meeting, Jarvis said, "We can't allow our children to be indoctrinated and brainwashed by lies."

Americans United weighed in on the controversy in mid December. In a letter to the board, AU Litigation Counsel Ayesha Khan warned that any effort to introduce creationism into public school science classes could spark a lawsuit. "We will not hesitate to take legal action in the event that constitutional requirements are not respected," Khan wrote. The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia also sent a warning letter to the board.

TV Preacher Kennedy Launches New Attack On Church-State Separation

Florida-based TV preacher D. James Kennedy is urging his followers to bombard the Supreme Court with petitions attacking the "anti-Christian lie" of church-state separation.

In a fund-raising letter mailed nationwide last month, Kennedy, whose Coral Ridge Ministries is based in Ft. Lauderdale, blasted the high court for handing down rulings "based on a lie...a grievous deception -- the doctrine of 'the wall of separation between church and state.'"

Writes Kennedy, "In the process of believing this deception -- and deciding major cases on the basis of this deception -- the Supreme Court has undermined the moral foundations of this country for the last 35+ years."

Kennedy also asked supporters to send him "a generous tax-deductible gift" to underwrite the cost of airing a nationwide special attacking church-state separation on Jan. 23. Kennedy said the program will "alert the American people to the damage the 'wall of separation between church and state' myth has done to our country." The program is titled "Separation of Church and State: The Great Deception."

Included with the fund-raising letter is a Coral Ridge Ministries "Truth Report" headlined, "Is the Wall of Separation Between Church and State Mandated by the Constitution? No -- It Is Not! It is an Anti-Christian Lie, and Nothing More!"

The document recycles common Religious Right charges about church-state separation, including the claim that the high court's 1962 school prayer ruling cited no precedent. (In fact, the ruling cites several other cases) The report asserts that since mandatory prayer and Bible reading were removed from public schools, a "shocking decline of public and personal morality followed, especially among America's youth. The juvenile violent crime arrest rate increased 215 percent between 1965 and 1996. The teenage suicide rate increased 155 percent during about the same period. Teenage girls engaging in sexual intercourse and having out-of-wedlock births also increased dramatically. Meanwhile, average SAT scores plummeted nearly 60 points...."

Kennedy's petition to the Supreme Court urges the court to "reverse its precedents that contradict the intended meaning of the Constitution." The petition lists the specific cases Kennedy wants to see overturned. They include the school prayer rulings, the ban on religious tests for public office, the ban on teaching creationism in science classes, the ban on posting the Ten Commandments in public schools and the high court's landmark 1947 Everson v. Board of Education decision, which speaks favorably of the wall of separation between church and state.

Another recent Kennedy mailing included a lengthy article by "Christian nation" propagandist David Barton. Church-state expert says Barton's work includes erroneous or misleading assertions about early U.S. history and the development of church-state separation.

Presidential Race Sparks Debate Over Role Of Religion

Religion remains a controversial topic in the 2000 race for the presidency.

The trend got under way Dec. 13 during a Republican debate in Iowa. Asked what "political philosopher" he most admires, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who is considered the GOP front-runner, replied, "Christ, because he changed my heart....When you turn your heart and your life over to Christ, when you accept Christ as the Savior, it changes your heart and changes your life."

Not to be outdone, GOP rivals Gary Bauer and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch quickly chimed in that Jesus is their favorite political philosopher as well. The professions of faith sparked widespread comment about the role of religion in political campaigns.

"Knowing what to render unto Caesar and what unto God requires wisdom of any president," editorialized The Christian Science Monitor. "Candidates who reduce religion to a sound bite may not understand that....[W]e hope the candidates exercise restraint by wearing religion more in their hearts and less on their sleeves. The US, after all, is electing a president, not a preacher, who will run a country, not a church. Faith is a personal guide best seen in action."

Rabbi A. James Rudin, a columnist with Religion News Service, called on presidential candidates to "resolve to respect the historic line that has traditionally separated the private faith commitments of elected officials from their public rhetoric and official duties. While it may be comforting to know a potential American president has sincere religious beliefs, it is quite disturbing when a candidate crosses the line during campaign appearances and speaks of personal spirituality in ways that appear arrogant to many Americans and seemingly excludes millions of people who do not share a similar belief."

Even some conservative columnists were underwhelmed by Bush's reply. Pundit Charles Krauthammer noted that God got 21 mentions in the Dec. 13 debate while Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic front-runner, got only two. "Such ostentatious religiosity is unseemly," wrote Krauthammer. "Public religiosity is bad enough. Public religiosity in pursuit of political power is even worse.

"For those who take religion seriously," he continued, "it is sacrilegious. For those who are secular, it is scary. You watch these debates, brimming with God talk, and you catch of whiff of the Taliban." (The Taliban is a Muslim fundamentalist movement that governs Afghanistan with a hardline version of Islam.)

But Religious Right leaders were pleased. The Rev. Jerry Falwell, in his Dec. 17 Falwell Confidential fax bulletin, wrote, "I am very confident that these three men were sincere in telling the world what Christ means to them. Mr. Bush certainly knew that his answer would be used by his critics to further assail his campaign. Nevertheless, he told the world what Christ has done for him. In my opinion, that is the ultimate in courage."

Less than a month later Bush was given another opportunity to expound on his religious views during a GOP debate in New Hampshire. Moderator Tim Russert asked Bush if the 15 million atheists, 5 million Jews and 5 million Muslims in America should feel excluded by Bush's "allegiance to Jesus."

Bush replied, "No. I was asked what influenced my life, and I gave the answer the way -- an honest unvarnished answer. It doesn't make me better than you or make me better than anybody else, but it's a foundation for how I live my life. Some may accept the answer and some may not. But Tim, I really don't care. It's me. It's what I'm all about. It's how I live my life."

Russert asked Bush about a comment he allegedly made in 1993 suggesting that only people who have accepted Jesus as their savior can get into Heaven. Bush claimed the comment had been misinterpreted and said, "What I said was, my religion teaches, my religion says, that you accept Christ and you go to Heaven. That was a statement that some interpreted that said I get to decide who gets to go to Heaven. Governors don't decide who gets to go to Heaven. No sir, God decides who goes to Heaven, Mr. Russert."

Asked by Russert if non-Christians can go to Heaven, Bush answered that God will decide if non-Christians go to Heaven and "far be it from the politician who tries to play God."

Not to be left out, Arizona Sen. John McCain during the same Jan. 6 debate pointed out that when he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam he served as a chaplain and led services for his fellow captives.

"But one of the sermons that I gave -- and I'm a great sermoner, as you know, that prepared me for public life -- is the parable according to when Jesus held up the coin when asked if they should pay taxes. And he said, quote, 'Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, render unto God that which is God's.' When I'm in the Oval Office, I'll obviously have a relationship with God, but I'm rendering unto Caesar as well."

In other news about religion and politics:

\xb7Former Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed is serving as a paid consultant to Republican presidential candidate George Bush. According to a Dec. 10 Associated Press article, Reed is a "key adviser" to the campaign. However, Bush press secretary Mindy Tucker later told The Washington Blade that Reed is only a "consultant on voter contact."

\xb7The Christian Coalition's woes have apparently persuaded Republican leaders to look elsewhere for help in turning out conservative religious voters. The Washington Post reported in December that the National Republican Congressional Committee has given $250,000 to the National Right to Life Committee and $500,000 to the U.S. Family Network, a group that works with a former aide to House Majority White Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

The newspaper said GOP officials are worried that the Christian Coalition's financial and personnel troubles could keep it from effectively turning out religious conservatives in the 2000 elections.

Indiana Public School Substitutes Ten 'Common Precepts' For Ten Commandments

Adding a new twist to the debate over posting the Ten Commandments in public schools, an Indiana school district has decided to display ten "Common Precepts" for moral behavior.

The list, which has been posted in public schools in Scottsburg, urges students to respect authority, honor their parents and family members, speak truthfully, abstain from sex until marriage, resolve conflicts without violence, stay drug and alcohol free, speak kindly to and about others, leave other people's property alone, treat classmates and teachers with respect and avoid being jealous of what others have.

Superintendent Robert Hooker insisted that the moral precepts are not an attempt to sneak religion in through the back door. "We're not trying to teach religion," he told The New York Times. "With kids killing kids, and so many negative images out there, we're just trying to put forth a positive message."

The original list of precepts also advised students to "Trust in God." However, under fire from the Indiana affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, the school board decided to delete that religious advice.

"It suspiciously tracks the Ten Commandments," said Kenneth Falk, an ACLU lawyer. "The edict to trust in God is clearly a religious notion."

The idea for the 11 precepts started after two residents in the town of 6,500 approached Hooker and asked for permission to post the Ten Commandments in schools. Hooker turned them down, saying the move would spark a costly lawsuit. Instead, he urged the school board to adopt a more secular code, and the members agreed.

"Every one of us on the school board believe in that God," said Rod Colson, a board member. "We're not going to turn our backs on Him. You've got to draw a line in the sand somewhere."

But Jonathan Wakeman, a Scottsburg resident, disagreed. "It's not the school's job to tell students to believe in God," Wakeman said.

In other news about the Ten Commandments:

\xb7The Val Verde (Calif.) School Board has voted unanimously to reverse its decision to post the Ten Commandments in district schools. The move came after the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit, calling the proposed display a violation of church-state separation.

Board members voted 5-0 to approve posting of the Decalogue in the district's 12 schools last September. In November, after the lawsuit was filed, they met in closed session and voted 4-0 to drop the idea.

Some local residents were not pleased. "I think the ACLU needs to be shot," said the Rev. Abraham Capers Jr. of the First Baptist Church of Perris. "They should be put on a ship with a hole in the ship and sent off."

\xb7The Elkhart, Ind., city hall can continue to display the Ten Commandments, a federal court has ruled. U.S. District Judge Allen Sharp upheld the monument Dec. 24 and in his opinion took issue with other federal courts that have struck down such government-sponsored religious displays.

"There have been times in our society when a voice from the back of the bus has raised profound questions as to where we were heading as a society," Sharp wrote in the Books v. City of Elkhart ruling. "This may be a voice from the back of the judicial bus attempting to raise questions about where we are headed under the religion clauses of the First Amendment. Hopefully, this discussion will lead to a careful re-examination of precisely where we are going with our jurisprudence about religious messages and symbols on public property in the United States."

\xb7The Haywood County, N.C., courthouse may not have to take down the Ten Commandments after all. The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a challenge to the display in December after plaintiff Richard Suhre died. In its Dec. 8 decision, the appellate panel refused to allow Anne Maxwell, another Haywood County resident to substitute for Suhre, an Americans United member who died at age 89.

President Clinton Backs 'Partnerships' Between Churches And Schools

A White House-backed proposal to encourage churches to enter into "partnerships" with public schools is misguided, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Details of the plan were unveiled in mid December by the U.S. Education Department and were the topic of President Bill Clinton's weekly radio address Dec. 18. During the speech, Clinton asserted that "faith-based organizations" are eager to "build new and effective partnerships" with public schools, such as sponsoring after-school reading and mentoring programs. Clinton said his administration supports this drive and will issue guidelines to public school officials about how to implement such partnerships.

"Our new guidelines will help them work together on common ground to meet constitutional muster, to avoid making students uncomfortable because they come from different religious traditions, while helping students make the most of their God-given talents," Clinton said.

But Americans United criticized the program, saying it lacks adequate church-state safeguards. "The Constitution calls for a separation between church and state, not a partnership," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United.

"The administration's new guidelines are well intentioned, but pose serious practical problems," Lynn continued. "Many parents would be understandably concerned if their children's public school appeared to be favoring some religious groups over others."

The Education Department's new guidelines are an expanded version of advice first issued in 1995. The original guidelines said nothing about churches and public schools working together. Americans United endorsed the original recommendations, but said the new section on church-school partnerships is problematic.

Lynn cited two specific examples: The new guidelines recommend that members of churches involved in such partnerships do not engage in religious activity with students. "In reality," said Lynn, "this regulation will be virtually impossible to enforce. Some religious groups are known for their aggressive proselytism and will undoubtedly try to exploit the program to try to convert public school students. Southern Baptists, for example, have openly targeted Jews, Hindus and others for conversion. Parents from those faiths will be justifiably worried if their children's public school forms a partnership with a church bent on aggressive evangelism."

The guidelines also say that no religious group should be denied the right to form a partnership with a public school. That could mean groups with unusual or unpopular doctrines will be included, and many parents will be alarmed.

"How many parents would want their children's public school to form partnerships with the neo-Nazi World Church of the Creator?" Lynn asked. "This program sounds well intentioned on its face. But in the real world it raises too many thorny problems."

In other news about religion in public schools:

\xb7"Bible History" classes in Florida public school districts are taught from a sectarian perspective that violates the separation of church and state, according to a new study.

The report, "The Good Book Taught Wrong," was prepared by People For the American Way, which analyzed course materials from all 14 districts that offer such instruction. PFAW says the classes are taught from a Protestant Christian perspective. In one class, offered in Levy County, a lesson on John 8 asks, "Who, according to Jesus, is the father of the Jews?" The answer is given as "the devil."

Two high schools in Marion and Levy Counties ask the following exam question: "Why is it hard for a non-Christian to understand things about God?" In Columbia County, an exam question asks, "If you had a Jewish friend who wanted to know if Jesus might be the expectant [sic] Messiah, which book [of the Gospels] would you give him?"

PFAW sent letters to the superintendents of the 14 districts, urging them to drop the unconstitutional classes before lawsuits are filed.