First Amendment Advocate, Vol. 1, No. 1, February 2000
The Newsletter of the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United
Textbook Disclaimer Promoting Religion
by Jim Huff
The Oklahoma State Textbook Committee’s required evolution disclaimer for all science textbooks that present biological evolution as a scientific explanation for the origin of life and the universe is totally unneeded and inappropriate. The language of the disclaimer is borrowed from phrases in Alabama’s evolution disclaimer. Both, Oklahoma and Alabama are seeking to protect areas of religious faith and conviction by governmental actions. This is a dangerous road to start down. Which subjects are next? Will Psychology, Sociology, United States History, World History, U. S. Government, even Economics texts also need some type of disclaimers? The use of governmental authority to protect a conclusion of religious faith is a violation of the Constitutional concept of “separation of church and state.”
Governor Keating selected the members of the Textbook Committee from the Association of Professional Oklahoma Educators. Religious conservatism is the main purpose for its existence. It’s obvious that the committee was formed with the political intent of promoting the “Alabama evolution disclaimer”. There’s nothing wrong with religious conservatism for teachers or anyone else. But, when religious conservatives seek to impose their religious conclusions on those who do not agree with those conclusions, it is wrong and must be opposed. This political/governmental action is a violation of the Constitutional concept of “separation of church and State.”
The Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma passed a resolution in support of the “evolution disclaimer”. The author of the resolution argued that evolution is not science and that “it (evolution) could be one of the worst tools to cause young people to disbelieve other areas of scripture (the Bible).” From this viewpoint, the disclaimer is an effort to have an impact on a student’s response to Biblical accounts. The BGCO endorsement of the evolution disclaimer is an effort to put the BGCO on the side of faith and Biblical confidence. There’s nothing wrong with faith or confidence in the Bible. But, when an agency of government promotes any religious faith in a public school setting that’s improper. When public school teachers are required to defend and teach a religious conclusion that’s a violation of the Constitutional concept of “separation of church and state.”
“Scientific Creationism” or “intelligent design” are not proper concepts for inclusion in a public school curriculum. Either concept or similar concepts conclude the existence of an initiator, creator, or God. Which “initiator”, “creator”, or “God”? The answers to these questions are not in the realm of science. The answers to these questions should not be attempted in public school science classes. A more appropriate place for discussion and possible answers would be in a student initiated, voluntarily attended, school supervised, federally supported by the Equal Access Law, devotional club. The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of this type of religious practice on public school campuses which have established “limited forums”.
Opposition to the disclaimer is not opposition to religious faith. It is opposition to any level of government posing questions that require religious content answers. It is opposition to “back door” efforts to inject religious teachings in public schools. People of faith, both those scientifically educated and those non-scientifically educated, have reached their convictions about the proper relationship of scientific evolution and religious teachings without any official government statement challenging scientific evolution. They reached those deep and serious conclusions the right way. They considered the information on scientific evolution along with the teachings of their individual faith groups. There’s nothing unconstitutional about that process. It should be left that way for the current and future generations of Oklahoma public school students.
Jim Huff, Executive Secretary of the Oklahoma AU chapter, is retired OK City public school teacher and a Baptist deacon.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”
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