75 Years After 'scopes Trial,' Religious Right Activists Try New Tactics To Expel Evolution From Public Schools

On July 10, 1925, exactly 75 years ago today, the trial of John T. Scopes began in Dayton, Tenn. His c

On July 10, 1925, exactly 75 years ago today, the trial of John T. Scopes began in Dayton, Tenn. His crime was teaching evolutionary biology in the local high school, in violation of state law that required no lesson be taught "that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible."

As the U.S. marks the 75th anniversary of this legal milestone, the fight over evolution is hotter than ever, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In the July issue of Americans United's Church & State magazine, the group has published an overview of the anti-evolution crusade in the 75 years since the "Scopes Monkey Trial" and an analysis of the tactics, groups and agendas of those who seek to undercut support for evolution.

Old-style fundamentalist anti-evolution groups now have help from "Intelligent Design" creationists with a veneer of academic respectability and massive funding from wealthy Religious Right donors.

"Religious Right activists are devoting an increasing portion of their time and money to the crusade against evolution," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn executive director of Americans United. "If they succeed, public school neutrality will be damaged, science education will be harmed and the wall of separation between church and state will be breached."

According to AU, battles over the teaching of evolution are common. For example, in the 1920s, 20 states legislatures considered measures to prohibit the teaching of evolution. Demonstrating how little has changed, in the 1990s, the number of states that have considered anti-evolution measures is identical 20 states. Moreover, local controversies occur on a regular basis.

The Supreme Court has issued two landmark rulings on the question. In Epperson v. Arkansas (1968), the justices said that an Arkansas law that banned evolution from the state's public schools was unconstitutional. Further, in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987), the high court said that a Louisiana statute mandating the teaching of "creation science" with evolutionary biology violated church-state separation.

But opponents of evolution have adapted to the court's framework and redoubled their efforts. In recent years, creationists' tactics have evolved to include a variety of different strategies. They seek to:

* Remove evolution from state science curricula. In the most infamous example of this tactic, the Religious Right-dominated Kansas State Board of Education voted 6-4 on Aug. 11 to approve a science curriculum with virtually no references to evolutionary biology or related concepts such as natural selection, species' common ancestry, geologic time and the Big Bang.

* Add "disclaimers" to science instruction. This plan allows for evolution to be taught in science classrooms, but it warns students about the subject matter before they learn it. This ploy was first used in 1995 when the Alabama State Board of Education required that an anti-evolution message be inserted in biology texts. In March, the Oklahoma State Legislature unsuccessfully attempted to add an identical "disclaimer" in its state texts.

* Describe evolution as "just a theory." This has been a frequently used argument for the better part of the 20th century. The tactic exploits misunderstanding of the scientific meaning of the word "theory." As the National Academy of Sciences has explained, "In scientific terms, 'theory' does not mean 'guess' or 'hunch' as it does in every day usage. Scientific theories are explanations of natural phenomena built up logically from testable observations and hypotheses."

Concluded AU's Lynn, "Unfortunately, it appears that this controversy will remain with us for many years to come. Despite the nearly unanimous approval of the scientific community and definitive rulings from the Supreme Court, the Religious Right just won't quit. In time, it is my hope that critics come to understand that religion and science can peacefully coexist."

rime was teaching evolutionary biology in the local high school, in violation of state law that required no lesson be taught "that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible."

As the U.S. marks the 75th anniversary of this legal milestone, the fight over evolution is hotter than ever, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In the July issue of Americans United's Church & State magazine, the group has published an overview of the anti-evolution crusade in the 75 years since the "Scopes Monkey Trial" and an analysis of the tactics, groups and agendas of those who seek to undercut support for evolution.

Old-style fundamentalist anti-evolution groups now have help from "Intelligent Design" creationists with a veneer of academic respectability and massive funding from wealthy Religious Right donors.

"Religious Right activists are devoting an increasing portion of their time and money to the crusade against evolution," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn executive director of Americans United. "If they succeed, public school neutrality will be damaged, science education will be harmed and the wall of separation between church and state will be breached."

According to AU, battles over the teaching of evolution are common. For example, in the 1920s, 20 states legislatures considered measures to prohibit the teaching of evolution. Demonstrating how little has changed, in the 1990s, the number of states that have considered anti-evolution measures is identical 20 states. Moreover, local controversies occur on a regular basis.

The Supreme Court has issued two landmark rulings on the question. In Epperson v. Arkansas (1968), the justices said that an Arkansas law that banned evolution from the state's public schools was unconstitutional. Further, in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987), the high court said that a Louisiana statute mandating the teaching of "creation science" with evolutionary biology violated church-state separation.

But opponents of evolution have adapted to the court's framework and redoubled their efforts. In recent years, creationists' tactics have evolved to include a variety of different strategies. They seek to:

* Remove evolution from state science curricula. In the most infamous example of this tactic, the Religious Right-dominated Kansas State Board of Education voted 6-4 on Aug. 11 to approve a science curriculum with virtually no references to evolutionary biology or related concepts such as natural selection, species' common ancestry, geologic time and the Big Bang.

* Add "disclaimers" to science instruction. This plan allows for evolution to be taught in science classrooms, but it warns students about the subject matter before they learn it. This ploy was first used in 1995 when the Alabama State Board of Education required that an anti-evolution message be inserted in biology texts. In March, the Oklahoma State Legislature unsuccessfully attempted to add an identical "disclaimer" in its state texts.

* Describe evolution as "just a theory." This has been a frequently used argument for the better part of the 20th century. The tactic exploits misunderstanding of the scientific meaning of the word "theory." As the National Academy of Sciences has explained, "In scientific terms, 'theory' does not mean 'guess' or 'hunch' as it does in every day usage. Scientific theories are explanations of natural phenomena built up logically from testable observations and hypotheses."

Concluded AU's Lynn, "Unfortunately, it appears that this controversy will remain with us for many years to come. Despite the nearly unanimous approval of the scientific community and definitive rulings from the Supreme Court, the Religious Right just won't quit. In time, it is my hope that critics come to understand that religion and science can peacefully coexist."

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization represents 60,000 members and allied houses of worship in all 50 states.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.