On April 22 and 23rd Hugoton Public Schools of south-western Kansas sponsored an in-school assembly called “Dinsosaur Lyceum.” Designed for middle and high school students, the hour long assembly offered a detailed introduction to Paleontology and Earth Science complete with a mobile museum containing dinosaur skeletons, fossils and other pertinent replicas. On the surface the concept is excellent especially when you consider that rural Hugoton is a 3 hour drive from the nearest natural history museum.
However, there is one big problem. The program was developed and hosted by The Creation Truth Foundation (CTF), an organization whose purpose is to help bring about “a return to all of realities of Biblical Creation” through education. According to its mission statement, the non-profit’s goal is to combat what founder Dr. Thomas Sharp repeatedly labels a growing “paganistic” lifestyle in America. “The West has become Pagan,” he warns, using the term pagan as a synonym for secular. Together with his colleagues, Dr. Sharp has produced “a host of support materials and services to aid your delivery of a sound science curriculum based in Biblical Creation.”
A week prior to the Hugoton assemblies, the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri received a complaint from a concerned Hugoton citizen whose identity has never been publicly revealed. Shortly after, the ACLU’s Legal Director Doug Bonney and Attorney Heather Weaver sent a letter to Superintendent Mark Crawford calling for the immediate cancellation of CTF program.
Based on the review of the website of the Creation Truth Foundation, the ACLU is concerned that these mandatory school assemblies will spread creationism to the Hugoton Public Schools in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Unites States Constitution…
We respectfully request that the District take immediate and concrete steps to remedy these problems. The first step would be to cancel the planned mandatory school assemblies now set for next week.
Despite the ACLU’s strongly worded request, the Board did not cancel the assemblies. CTF arrived in Hugoton that weekend, made some local Church appearances and set up its mobile museum. On Monday and Tuesday, CTF ran the school assemblies in the morning, and then in the evening opened the auditorium up for public presentations.
It appears that Superintendant Crawford was undaunted by the ACLU’s threat. In fact, he fired back telling the Topeka-Capital Journal that, “he had a duty to show his students ‘how to handle a bully.” He also corrected the ACLU saying that the events were not mandatory but not one student or faculty opted out.
The Hugoton controversy has attracted a good-deal of media coverage much to the displeasure of the School Board. Crawford insists that the Board has nothing to hide. He explains that CTF’s presenter, Matt Miles was instructed to avoid mention of “creationism or any topics related to the age of the Earth or the Bible, according to district officials” and has signed a memorandum as such. However, he did confirm that the public evening programs would indeed have Biblically-based content.
Despite his confidence, Crawford refused to allow any non-school personnel into the school day assemblies to verify his account. As a result, the ACLU remains unconvinced. Bonney stated, “The opportunity for a constitutional violation is too high because their whole evangelical reason for being is to promote Biblical creationism.” Now, the ACLU is requesting all communication, documents and CTF materials in order to assess the legality of the situation. Did the school system violate the Constitution? The ACLU wrote:
Even if Miles never overtly mentions the Bible or creationism…public schools are not permitted to present students with false information, which the legitimate scientific community has universally rejected, as part of an anti-evolution, pro-creationist effort.
Can a Christian missionary – a passionate believer in and teacher of creationism – lecture public school students on dinosaurs without crossing the line? Yes, it is possible for someone to keep from spewing religious rhetoric in inappropriate situations. I can talk about herbs, for example, without discussing their magickal properties. However, it is not my personal mission, nor the mission of my employers to teach about herbs. So the question remains: did Matt Miles, a man whose life and career are focused on the promotion of creationism, censor himself?
To date, Hugoton’s Superintendent has done an impeccable job of holding his position with the public. However, he did make one statement that feeds the cynically-minded. Of the school assemblies, Crawford remarked, “… parents and citizens here in this community want their children to also be curious about other viewpoints of creation and origin.” Did the assembly mention these other viewpoints?
Hugoton is a small close-knit rural town. After scanning online comments from locals, I do believe that Crawford has strong community support. CTF Pastor Matt Miles himself was in fact a resident of the city at one time. However, whether or not Hugoton citizens believe in creationism is not the point. The teaching of any Biblical-based concepts violates the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution. While CTF is perfectly within its right to share its material, its fantastic mobile museum, and its beliefs within the private sector, the organization cannot do so in the public schools.
Fortunately for Kansas and similar states who have been struggling with this issue for decades, America’s public education curriculum is undergoing a national change. Over the last few years, an organization made up of educators and administrators has created something called the “Common Core Standards. (CCS).” The goal is to strengthen American education by developing consistency across the country in the basic disciplines of language and math. Its popularity has led to several independent organizations creating additional “tack on” programs for science, art and world languages. Individual states can elect to adopt the programs. To date, Kansas is one of the 45 states* that has indeed adopted the CCC as well as the science program, which, incidentally, teaches evolution and not intelligent design.
I’m personally undecided as to the overall merits of the CCS from an educational standpoint. However, such a program does shift the center of accountability. As such, the new national standards may help to curtail the attempts of these radicals to push religion into the public schools under the pretense of science. CCS won’t stop the extra-curricular activities like the Creation Truth Foundations assemblies. But it may make it easier for a wolf to be called a wolf no matter what clothes he is wearing.
lt is important for Pagan parents or anyone who supports religious equality in the schools to remain vigilant and to be aware of these smaller religious freedom cases. I will be watching as the Hugoton situation plays out.
*The five states that have not adopted the CCS are Texas, Alaska, Minnesota, Virginia, and Nebraska.