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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.

I tend to ignore Camp Catholic here at Patheos, and I daresay most of them are inclined to overlook that fact that this site is brimming with unapologetic capital-P, multiple-gods-worshiping, Pagans. Despite the fact that Catholics got most of their best bits from pre-Christian religion and culture, we tend to have a relationship that is less than cordial. In any case, I’m a live-and-let-live sort of guy, a peaceful polytheist content to serve my own community as best I can. However, every now and then someone waves a red flag in my general direction, yells “Toro,” and I feel the need to respond. I mean, how can you not when you see a headline like this…

Warning: Catholic not actually converting to Paganism.

Warning: Catholic not actually converting to Paganism.

Sadly, Marc “Bad Catholic” Barnes is not actually converting to one of the many permutations of modern Paganism. Instead he’s making a point about how anemic and wussy post-Christian secular culture is by praising the perceived he-man heroism of pre-Christian societies.

“The pagans, by which I refer to pre-Christian Western man, may have been unwilling to accept that strange doctrine of the Son of Man, but they willingly accepted that they were sons of men. They may not have known how to be Christian, but they knew how to be human. The post-Christian, having left Christ, is in the busy process of altogether leaving Man. With respect to those delivering our daily mail, one might say we are moving increasingly to the Age of the Post-Man.”

I would point out that Barnes’ view of pre-Christian cultures is not only Romantic, but reductive, a caricature of the complex lives ancient pagans lived (the ancient world had plenty of bureaucrats, poets, and pacifists), but I want to instead focus on another assertion he makes.

“The Pagan world awaited Christ as a virgin awaits her bridegroom. In her myth and legend she whispered of Christ. The post-Christian world leaves Christ as an adulteress. In her timidity and weariness she slanders His name. They are both without the fullness of Truth, but oh, how much happier the Pagans must have been.”

He, of course, quotes C.S. Lewis, because he’s the go-to guy who helped popularize the myth of religious evolution, but he’s far from the only one. J.R.R. Tolkein held this view, as did the artist John Singer Sargent, whose controversial “Triumph of Religion” mural series was inspired by the philosopher Ernest Renan. All believed that Christianity was a religious evolutionary endpoint. That more capital-T “Truth” and capital-L “Light” filtered into the history of religion until finally Jesus was born, the final Truth was revealed, and all other faiths would shrivel and die in the wake of that revelation, their theologies now obsolete in the face of the final sacrifice. This birthed the consistent idea that ancient pagans were silently longing for Christ, but just didn’t know him yet ( a sentiment repeated by Pope Benedict in 2007, when he intimated that indigenous populations were “longing” for the faith of the colonizers).

The problem with evolutionary religious theory is that it’s poetic nonsense, a selective reading of history and religion to suit a triumphalist idea. It came of an age where many people, still grappling with Darwin’s theory of evolution, started applying it to just about everything. This was not only wrong, but fed into the idea that Caucasian European Christians were the pinnacle of  human achievement, a destructive idea that still will not die (ironically, the misapplication of evolutionary theory on folk songs and customs helped jump-start modern Paganism, but that’s another story). Without going too far into it, it’s easy to see how many horrors and “sins” of the modern world actually began with the idea that there was one true way, and that all other ways were not fit for survival, respect, or preservation.

The truth is that polytheism, and other non-monotheistic belief systems, never went anywhere. They have survived just fine to the present day, though often victims of brutal repression and discrimination (and then accused of being “primitive” despite weathering these storms). The myth of a Christian end-point used by countless apologists of colonizers hell-bent on eliminating non-Christian religions in the “New World,” Asia, and Africa (the indigenous religions of Europe thought long dead). These surviving non-Christian religions aren’t “evolving” into Christianity, and the dominant monotheisms are still exerting massive political and cultural power to wipe them out.

Finally, returning to the pernicious idea of he-man warrior-pagans who were awesome and nothing like the girly-men of secular culture, I’d point Mr. Barnes to David Brin’s epic take-down of Frank Miller’s hero-worship of the Spartans, pointing out that it was the citizen-soldiers of Athens who truly saved Western civilization.

“Expressed repeatedly – with the relentlessness of deliberate, moralizing indoctrination – “300” idolizes the same arrogant contempt for citizenship that eventually ruined classical Greece and Republican Rome, and that might bring the same fate to America.”

Yes, the ancient world had bad-asses living in it, warriors who performed amazing feats of bravery, but it was also full of humanitarians, early scientists and doctors, thinkers, and simple folk who only wanted to live the best life possible.  Barnes’ mocks the “Americanized silliness that seems to be under the impression that Paganism largely comprised of the eating of the proper roots at the proper times and idolizing liberal politicians..” without realizing that Ancient Rome was full of “liberal” politicians who helped build things like democracy and representative government (not to mention the “social safety net”). For every romantic superhero like Mark Antony, there was a Cicero, working hard to make sure the early forms of our government worked. Those men were often killed to make way for tyranny, but they also made our modern world possible.

The ancient world is far more diverse, complex, strange, and wonderful than anyone can truly imagine, but it was still human in the same way we today are human. Despite the assertions of the “Bad Catholic,” we have not lost that humanity, nor are we so far from the minds who shaped the world we live in today.

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.