Archives For creationism

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.

D3-Public-Auditorium

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.

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Superintendent Mark Crawford
Hugoton Public Schools

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.

Matt Miles Creation Truth Foundation

Matt Miles
Creation Truth Foundation

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.

hugotonschoolFortunately 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.

Heck Yea!

As a whole, we, Americans, live in a Christian-based culture. Our calendar alone demonstrates that fact. If this were a Jewish culture, we could shop at Wal-Mart on Dec 25th. If this were a Pagan culture, the 12,000 lb Times Square crystal ball would drop on Oct 31st – not Dec 31st. And the festivities would end with a mass scrying led by Ryan Seacrest himself. However, for better or worse, the framework of our culture is, at its very core, Christian.

While this Christian cultural-bias manifests differently in varying regions, it is most definitely pronounced in the South Eastern U.S. – the area studied in the Jews on First article that prompted the original question. It ain’t called the Bible Belt for nothing. Many of the most memorable evangelical icons are from the Southern U.S. such as Jerry Falwell, the Southern Baptist Convention, and Bible Man. But, if you need statistical proof, look no further than the Pew Forum demographics maps.

Until moving South, I had never felt the “otherness” that comes with being a religious minority – not Jewish or Pagan. I was raised in the relative comfort of New York’s cultural heterogeneity in which religion is a private family matter isolated from secular life. Even when God was mentioned in public school, nobody noticed. We could have been saying, “One Nation under Goats” and it would have had the same spiritual impact.

Tour BusHowever, Southern culture is very different. The South has been marinating in evangelical Christianity for so long that it permeates all aspects of southern life, even the secular. As expressed by native Georgian, Amy Ray, of the Indigo Girls, “…once you get raised on Jesus, it is kind of always a part of you even if you are a pagan.” (WNYC, 2012) In other words, in the South, goats are never confused with Gods.

Why? Historically-speaking, the South was an agrarian-based society that was founded on small towns, city squares and Friday night football. At its very center was the Church acting as both the town’s religious and social foundation. This idea is summed up in the Southern Baptist Convention’s “faith and message” statement:

“All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society.”

And, this is how religious doctrine seeped into secular Christian culture. These small towns were, and still are, a living Venn diagram in which religion, culture and government merge at the walls of the Church.

If everyone in town is Christian, nobody minds – a scenario common to these rural areas. For example, in Alabama, the Jackson County School Board openly supported the on-campus preaching of Horace Turner, a.k.a Bible Man. Local State Senator Shradack McQuill remarked, “We need God in the public schools” adding that unhappy parents should just home-school. Clearly, this educational program is unconstitutional. However, when the Board voted, there was nobody to object. Therefore, today, Jackson County’s Bible Man continues to …do whatever a Bible Man does.

Even in the larger cities, this Church-centered mentality remains ingrained within the collective culture. In the South, you are not asked, “What is your religion?” You are asked, “What Church do you attend?” That alone speaks volumes. So, taking this Christian-infused secular tradition and adding it to the aggressive “outreach” policy of the dominant Southern Baptist church, you have a society in which Jesus sits on every street and attends every event.

One World Spiritual CenterTo better illustrate, let me refer back to the Jews on First article that focused on children living in two adjacent suburbs of Atlanta: East Cobb and Roswell. Roughly, within a 5 mile radius, there are four synagogues and a Jewish Community Center. Within that area, you will also find a large representation of Christian sects, including Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Korean, Chinese, Methodist, Baptist, Unitarian, Coptic, and more. There’s an Islamic Center and a New Age store. Moreover, East Cobb boasts the One World Spiritual Center – a Church that embraces alternative faiths such as New Thought Christians, Pagans, Hindus, and Baha’i.

Without a doubt, East Cobb is one of the most religiously diverse suburbs of Atlanta. The interfaith love is so strong there that the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection and Temple Etz Chaim, who share a parking lot, periodically use their marquis’ to offer holiday blessings to each other. “Shana Tova,” reads the Lutheran marquis. “Happy Easter,” reads the Temple’s. In December, it’s like a tennis match of marquis well-wishes.

Despite all of that diversity, local students’ are still faced with the frustrating experiences illustrated by Jews on First. Yes, Cobb County did put “creationism” stickers in the science texts. Yes, the student-run Fellowship of Christian Athletes is allowed to paper school walls with advertising. Yes, the Sojourn Church uses a public middle school for Sunday worship. And, yes, the Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, a so-called megachurch, dominates East Cobb’s landscape, aggressively seeking to convert the “unchurched” with its youth and school outreach programs.

(An aside: I will omit my comments on the Boy Scouts’ and Girl Scouts’ presence within the elementary school classrooms. That particular subject would require a soap box, a microphone and sedative.)

Cobb County Creationism Disclaimer

Setting aside blatant proselytizing, the Southern tradition of a Church-based culture persists even within the diversity-rich suburbs of East Cobb and Roswell. The local churches run many of the community programs such as sports leagues, music conservatories, gymnastics programs, art classes, day-care centers and summer camps. Every church has a pumpkin patch in October and an evergreen forest in December.

“Why don’t you join the Church’s league? It’s just basketball. There isn’t any religious teaching.” But, it’s not just basketball. It means something more. Why? Because it means something here in this Southern environment. Because in that Church, even without a pre-game prayer, we, the non-Christians, are the aliens.

Fortunately, in the Southern cities, religious minorities do have the benefit of secular entertainment options. However, that’s not the case everywhere. Having worked on several Lady Liberty League cases, I have witnessed the pressures placed on Pagan families living in rural areas. There, in that small town, that Venn diagram, boundaries are still blurred. And, while problems often arise from direct attacks, they also flare up simply due to the town’s tradition, a.k.a. “the way it’s done.” In these rural battles, the stakes can be very high and the damage can be devastating.

With that said, the U.S. Constitution still reigns supreme. The First Amendment states:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..”

This includes public schools. If a government school supports the presence of one religion, it must do the same for every religion. If it disallows the presence of one religion, it must disallow all.

Unfortunately for religious minorities living in the Southern rural landscape, the battle is on-going; especially if the town is controlled by the evangelical Southern Baptist Church. This organization has a different interpretation of the First Amendment:

Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends.……. and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power. (The Baptist Faith & Message: Religious Liberty)

Must Ministries Collection BinThere are profound questions left open, only to be answered privately by every Southerner practicing a minority faith. When do you stay quiet and blend in? When do you re-locate? When do you fight back? The answers should be considered carefully. Just this morning, I saw a Must Ministries collection bin in a school lobby. Should I say something? Should I let it go? Or, should I ask to put a Pagan Assistance Fund bucket alongside it? Legally, the school would have to accept my collection bin or reject both.

Of course, I let the collection bin issue go. Must Ministries does positive community work. And, frankly, I don’t mind Christianity’s presence provided it is kept within the private sector where I have the choice to reject or absorb what is offered. For example, I can avoid the local karate school where a child, quite literally, earns a “Bible Belt.” And, I can choose to only visit the doctors who don’t hang Bible verses in their examination rooms. Just as private businesses have a right to promote, within their walls, their religious beliefs, I have a right not to purchase their products. As Pagans, we must choose our battles wisely because the fight for liberty, while worth it, can be very ugly.

Karate School in Georgia

In the end, the South is what it is – a place of phenomenal beauty and vibrant, unique cultural traditions. But with that comes its historical religious baggage. If you want to live here, you must get used to it. Just like in marriage, you enjoy the good, tolerate the bad… and laugh about the rest.

Top Story: On Saturday, I wrote about the impending enaction of a bill in Tennessee that could require schools to “teach the controversy” of evolution and global warming. Opposed by the ACLU, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, and the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, it nonetheless was allowed to become law without the governor’s signature on Tuesday.

http://controversy.wearscience.com/

http://controversy.wearscience.com/

“Republican Gov. Bill Haslam allowed the controversial measure to become law without his signature and, in a statement, expressed misgivings about it. Nevertheless, he ignored pleas from educators, parents and civil libertarians to veto the bill. The law does not require the teaching of alternatives to scientific theories of evolution, climate change and “the chemical origins of life.” Instead, it aims to prevent school administrators from reining in teachers who expound on alternative hypotheses to those topics. The measure’s primary sponsor, Republican state Sen. Bo Watson, said it was meant to give teachers the clarity and security to discuss alternative ideas to evolution and climate change that students may have picked up at home and want to explore in class.”

Doesn’t require teaching alternatives? Lets go to the actual language.

“The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, directors of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues.” [...] The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, directors of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.  Toward this end, teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.

I guess a lot hinges on the scope of “shall endeavor to,” and what qualifies as a “scientific controversy.” David Fowler, President of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, believes it will allow the teaching of Intelligent Design in science classes. Wesley H. Roberts, a high school biology teacher in Tennessee, says it will harm students going to college and taking Advanced Placement exams. How this “teach the controversy” law will actually affect curriculum decisions in Tennessee schools is a very open question, and will no doubt depend on how each school district interprets the language of the law. At best, it provides cover to rogue science teachers who want to insert non-scientific ideas into science classes, at worst, it will force teachers to add “controversial” theories to their curriculum.

As I said when I initially wrote about this proposed law, it’s doubly bad for followers of Pagan, indigenous, and earth-centered religions. It could very well insert explicitly Christian notions of creation and the origins of life into science classes, exposing non-Christian children to misinformation on the government’s dime, in addition to undermining basic knowledge of increasingly dire issues like global warming. I can only imagine that legal challenges are being prepared as we speak, I’ll keep you updated on this story as it progresses.

In Other News:

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

For decades there has been a quiet war against the teaching of evolution in American science classes, fueled largely by conservative Christians who think the theory is heretical and flawed. Ever since the 1987 Supreme Court case Edwards v. Aguillard, teaching creationism alongside evolution in a federally-funded science class has been outlawed. The justices ruled that  ”creation science” is an inherently Christian religious construct and would violate the Establishment Clause.  Since then, Christian activists have sought to find a loophole, most notoriously with the theory of “Intelligent Design,” which was also exposed as an inherently religious invention. The past twenty years has been littered with lawmakers, school boards, advocacy groups, and concerned parents fighting this still-contentious issue out. Now, the latest flashpoint in this battle is in Tennessee, where a bill requiring schools to “teach the controversy” of evolution and global warming has passed the Republican-controlled state House and Senate, and awaits the signature of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

http://controversy.wearscience.com/

http://controversy.wearscience.com/

The teaching of some scientific subjects, including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy . . . The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, directors of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.”

The idea of “teaching the controversy” originates with a campaign by the Discovery Institute, and was seen as a way to undermine support for evolution by recasting it as merely a popular idea among a set of scientists, emphasizing and misapplying the word “theory” so as to place other creationist-backed theories on equal ground. This was the seeming “loophole” of Edwards v. Aguillard, that “scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories” could be taught. But as the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial showed, these alternate theories don’t stand up to rigorous peer review, and often ignores mountains of published evidence undermining their claims. The simple fact is that “Intelligent Design” is a pseudo-scientific cloak over the old (Christian) creation science.

http://controversy.wearscience.com/

http://controversy.wearscience.com/

This bill, poised to be a law, is doubly bad for followers of Pagan, indigenous, and earth-centered religions. It not only seeks to insert explicitly Christian notions of creation and the origins of life into science classes, exposing non-Christian children to misinformation on the government’s dime, but it also seeks to undermine basic knowledge of increasingly dire issues like global warming. If signed, the law would open the door to hucksters who believe environmentalism is a “green dragon” that promotes Pagan religion (though a lot of opposition to climate change science is far more cynical). This is just another aspect of us being caught in another faith’s crisis, watching largely powerless as Christianity wars with itself over how to approach the origins of life or climate science.

Once, years ago, I  joked about the ramifications of “teaching the controversy.”

I think that since Bush has taken this brave step, all reasonable theories should be heard in public schools! Having said that, I demand that the TRUE answer to the beginning of all things be taught in schools. Because everyone knows that Danu the divine waters of heaven fell to the lifeless rock we now call earth and from her all life sprang including the first sacred oak who when conjoined with the sacred waters dropped two acorns that grew to become Dagda “The Good God” and Brigid “The Exalted One” who brought order to the land and built the first cities.

Oh and in fairness to our Asatru brothers and sisters we will also teach that the great cow Audumla licked away the ice to reveal the first gods who slayed the giant Ymir and created the earth, mountains, oceans, sky and trees from his dead body.

Finally, we should also teach the Faery creation story as recounted in Starhawk’s “The Spiral Dance” in which The Goddess apon seeing her own reflection created a companion from this reflection and made love to her which created a song from which all things sprung. This reflection then seperated from The Goddess eventually becomes masculine and the first God.

This of course is just the beginning! I have a more “scientific” version called “Polytheistic Design” that posits multiple intelligent designers, and “Matrifocal Design” which will settle the question of exactly what the gender of this intelligent designer was. Thanks again President Bush!

But as the poet Morrissey said, “the joke isn’t funny anymore.” While scoring a rhetorical point or two once might have been a fun idea, we now stare down inaction at rapid climate and weather changes, and are forced to re-fight battles waged at the beginning of the 20th century (also in Tennessee). For those of us who see the planet itself as sacred, we commit a blasphemy every day we waste re-litigating the Enlightenment. If Christians want religion in schools, it should be in a comparative religion class, a place I would happily endorse “teaching the controversy” by demanding the inclusion of Pagan faiths. It seems clear that once given  enough power, conservative Christians work tirelessly to roll back our secular, pluralistic, advances, endangering all that minority faiths have worked for. Teaching the controversy is all about teaching Christianity, all you have to do is ask for the name of the Intelligent Designer to be sure.

 

Some of you may remember our old friends on the Brunswick County School Board of North Carolina. Back in 2006 they tried to allow Christian groups to hand out religious literature on school campuses, a plan that was scuttled when Pagan publisher Llewellyn Worldwide told the board they would provide free books for local Pagans to hand out in schools.

Brunswick County Board of Education considering Pagan books.

“Board member Shirley Babson says she’s not afraid of potential lawsuits. She’s afraid of giving the appearance that the board approves of the literature groups would show the kids. “If I put something like this on the table, kids are going to say ‘Mrs. Babson thinks that’s alright. Mrs. Babson thinks that’s fine,’ ” Babson said.”

Then, in 2007, the Brunswick Board petulantly threatened to ban Harry Potter books from their libraries in seeming retaliation against the Witches.

“Brunswick County school officials will consider a procedure for students’ parents to challenge books available at school libraries … Board member Shirley Babson said some parents have expressed that books such as the Harry Potter series represent witchcraft and promote the practice of Wicca. Board member Jimmy Hobbs said he sees the importance of reviewing the policy. ‘The issue is a valid issue,’ Hobbs said. ‘I’m not attacking Harry Potter. When the issue of Bibles in schools came up last year, the ones that raised the most opposition was the group known as Wicca. Does this policy give them a free pass to get their materials into the schools? When distributing materials, we should be careful by not being biased. Is Wicca being allowed, in other ways, to the exclusion of Christian literature?’”

Now our old pals are back again, and this time they want to “teach the controversy” by introducing creationism into their curriculum.

“Articles in the Wilmington, North Carolina Star News on Tuesday and Wednesday report that the Brunswick County (NC) School Board is looking for a way to teach creationism in the schools. The issue was raised at Tuesday’s board meeting by parent Joel Fanti who told the board that it was unfair for evolution to be taught as a fact. Fanti said: ‘I wasn’t here 2 million years ago. If evolution is so slow, why don’t we see anything evolving now?’ School board member Jimmy Hobbs responded: ‘It’s really a disgrace for the state school board to impose evolution on our students without teaching creationism. The law says we can’t have Bibles in schools, but we can have evolution, of the atheists.’”

Sadly, while their hearts want to teach children that people were hanging out with dinosaurs, state law prevents them from teaching religious dogma in science classes.

“But neither creationism nor the related “intelligent design,” which says life forms are so complex only a higher power could have created them, may be taught as a required course of study, Edd Dunlap, science section chief for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, said Wednesday. These are considered religious teachings and may not be taught in science class or as fact, although they may be included as part of an elective, such as a course on religion or philosophy, he said.”

Looks like the Brunswick Board has been foiled again! You know, maybe they should turn their attention to actually improving the schools they oversee instead of constantly hatching plots to insert Christian religion into the school district. If they truly feel that the only good education is a Christian education, maybe they should move into the private sector.