NEW YORK (Jun. 23)
Jewish organizations hailed the Supreme Court decision last week that prohibited the teaching of creationism in public schools, ending a 10-year dispute.
The 7-2 decision overturned a Louisiana state statute which gave equal classroom time and equal space in textbooks to the teaching of evolution and creationist theories. The court ruled that creationist teaching in public schools was unconstitutional because it was construed as teaching for religious purposes.
Arkansas had a similar statute which was struck down, and at least 12 other states have at one time defeated bills to allow creationist teaching in public schools.
“The ruling sends a clear signal to public school officials that they have an obligation to maintain the secular nature of the school system — they can’t make their own religious agenda,” said Marc Stern, American Jewish Congress director of legal affairs.
AJCongress, the American Jewish Committee and Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith all filed amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) briefs urging the Supreme Court to ban teaching of creationism in public schools.
ADL national chairman Burton Levinson called the ruling “a tremendous victory for separation of church and state.” The decision reconfirms the First Amendment prohibition on religious instruction in public schools, Levinson said.
The losers in the Supreme Court decision, said Stern, are primarily segments of the Evangelical Christian movement who have founded creationist think-tanks in several states. Stern noted that the all Evangelicals do not support creationist teaching in schools.
But some Evangelicals clearly perceived the teaching of evolution in classrooms to be hostile to their view of the literal truth of the Bible, Stern said.
The ruling on creationism is one of several in recent years to reaffirm the separation of church and state. In 1982-83, the courts also banned prayer in public schools.