5 Shocking Ways the Christian Right Has Forced the Bible Into America's Schools
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Of all the Religious Right’s schemes, the constant promotion of Bible-based creationism in schools is one of its most nefarious.
Not only does replacing science with biblical literalism violate the separation of church and state, it leaves young people massively ill-prepared for higher education. Public universities teach evolution without qualification or apology. A poor understanding of what is considered to be the central organizing principle of science handicaps students from the first day they walk into freshman Biology 101.
In fact, a failure to understand evolution can make it harder for high school students to get into the best colleges. Try passing the Advanced Placement Biology exam when you know nothing of natural selection. A poor grounding in evolution can choke off entire career paths for young people.
Despite these high stakes, some states, school districts and individual teachers insist on doing students a disservice by promoting scientific illiteracy.
Anyone who thinks this issue died with the Scopes trial in 1925 hasn’t been keeping up. Creationists have continued to spread ignorance and attempt to infiltrate public education. Examples are legion, but here are five prominent (and outrageous) attempts by creationists to disrupt the education of America’s budding scholars.
1. Texas: In one of the creationists’ sneakiest moves to date, in 2007 a phalanx of anti-science fundamentalist groups swamped the Texas legislature and lobbied for a law allowing elective courses “about” the Bible in public schools.
At first glance, it sounded like it might work. The courses were supposed to be objective and not promote any one version of faith over others. But Texas lawmakers refused to allocate any money for teacher training, leaving the matter in the hands of local school districts.
You can guess what happened – in most districts, no training was offered. About 60 public school districts and charter schools adopted the classes, and many of them ended up with instruction that had the flavor of fundamentalist Sunday School lessons.
A recent report by the Texas Freedom Network authored by Mark Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Dallas’ Southern Methodist University, found that many schools are teaching that the Earth is 6,000 years old, a key concept of creationism. Chancey found two districts that went so far as to teach that modern racial diversity can be traced back to Noah’s sons, another creationist standby. Another district used videos from YouTube arguing that people’s lifespans began to drop “due to major environmental changes brought about by [Noah’s] flood.”
Most of the Bible courses, Chancey reported, were taught from a default conservative Protestant perspective. Most claimed that the Bible is literally true, and some even included anti-Jewish bias.
Observed Chancey, “Courts have repeatedly ruled that advocating creation science in public school science courses is unconstitutional….Nonetheless, several courses incorporate pseudoscientific material, presenting inaccurate information to their students and exposing their districts to the risk of litigation.”
2. Louisiana: In the early 1980s, Louisiana legislators decided to pass a law mandating that when evolution was taught in public schools, “creation science” must be as well. Scientists, educators and advocates of church-state separation were appalled and blasted the so-called “balanced treatment” measure, but lawmakers, led by state Sen. Bill Keith, plowed ahead. The bill was soon law.
Advocates of the new law didn’t even bother to disguise their religious motivations. Keith asserted that evolution is a tenet of “secular humanism, theological liberalism and atheism.” Paul Ellwanger, a creationist who helped author the bill, said he viewed the struggle as “one between God and anti-God forces.”
A legal challenge was promptly filed, and the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Fundamentalist religious groups bombarded the high court with legal briefs urging the justices to uphold the law, arguing that it was merely an attempt to promote “academic freedom” and present both sides of a controversial issue.