A new lawsuit filed by Citizens for Objective Public Education (COPE) aims to remove evolution from the curriculum in Kansas public schools. COPE’s self described objective is for children to “have the right to be objectively informed about controversial explanations that impact religious beliefs, rather than be indoctrinated to accept a particular explanation.”
The lawsuit (pdf) specifically targets freedom of religion rights for both students and parents. COPE argues that evolution is just one of many theories on how the world and its inhabitants were created and that it is best if both evolutionary ideas as well as religious theories of creation are presented to students in public schools. The organization also states that if evolution is the only theory presented to students, then atheism is being forced upon the students and their families, thus violating religious freedoms afforded to them in the U.S. Constitution.
Evolution and climate change are two of the concepts that have been the most controversial in the Standards.
At issue is Kansas’ decision to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards, a comprehensive overhaul of the public education system that aims to establish a science program for states. According to its website, the Next Generation Science Standards have been adopted by twenty-five states other than Kansas. Evolution and climate change are two concepts that have been the most controversial with the Standards, which also stress the advancements in science over the last few decades. The supporters of the Standards are firm in their belief that both of these topics are factual in nature and must be taught in order for students to better understand complex areas of science.
The Next Generation Science Standards were developed by a variety of state governments as well as a team of scientists and teachers. One of the main reasons for their development was to inspire a greater number of students to pursue careers in scientific areas. The Standards use statistics to show that the United States has seen a decline in science test scores at the high school level in the last few decades. Additionally, the Standards believe that the science currently being taught in the classroom is outdated and leads to ignorant conclusions by our students. Ideally, the creators of the Next Generation Science Standards hope that states will adopt their guidelines and results will be similar to Common Core, which has been adopted by all but five states.
Before the adoption of these new science standards, states were following standards from the National Research Council. The National Research Council (NRC) also supported the teaching of evolution as scientific fact in public schools across the country. The NRC believes that the study and teaching of evolution is crucial to a more comprehensive understanding of science, especially modern biology.
COPE and other organizations claim that the standards are also a violation of their Constitutional right of Free Speech, Free Exercise, Equal Protection, and Freedom of Religion provided by the Establishment Clause.
The lawsuit brought by COPE and parents in the Kansas school system objects to the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards as well as the framework on which it stands. The objection to the framework is in regards to when the teaching of evolution is first introduced to the classroom. Currently, evolutionary ideas are presented to students beginning as early as Kindergarten or first grade. COPE believes that this early introduction of evolution will cause young children to become indoctrinated by the Darwinist theory of evolution.
The complaint also argues that students should not be taught ideas such as the creation of the world/universe or discuss related questions at such an early age, especially when the answers may have more than one explanation. In the eyes of COPE and other individuals, the Next Generation Science Standards merely give one possible explanation. Moreover, those involved in the suit argue that only teaching evolution provides for the nonexistence of a God-like being and instead gives answers in line with atheistic thinking. The complaint reiterates this idea by stating “[i]t holds that explanations of the cause and nature of natural phenomena may only use natural, material or mechanistic causes, and must assume that supernatural and teleological or design conceptions of nature are invalid.”
COPE and others also claim that the standards are a violation of their Constitutional right of Free Speech, Free Exercise, Equal Protection, and Freedom of Religion provided by the Establishment Clause. COPE believes that by only teaching one theory on the creation of the world that excludes a theistic being, the states are providing government funding to further a message that is pushing the nonexistence of a God, which in turn furthers a religious message (by stating that God did not create the world).
One of the main concerns however, is that many traditional religious explanations of the creation of the world have significantly less scientific value attached to them.
What may be the biggest issue in this and similar circumstances is the teaching of evolution as an exact science. To many, the ideas proposed by Darwin that focus on natural selection and the origin of life are factual in nature, a theory supported by nature and science itself. However, people who oppose certain facets of evolution—or the concept in general—argue that evolution proposes only a theory to life. Organizations such as COPE believe that evolution deserves a place in the classroom alongside traditional religious explanations of the creation of life as we know it. Notably in a recent Pew poll, almost two-thirds of Americans believe in human evolution while one-third reject the theory of evolution outright.
One of the main concerns however, is that many traditional religious explanations of the creation of the world have significantly less scientific value attached to them. Scientists and researchers have difficulty teaching a scientific concept to students that they cannot fully prove and that is founded on beliefs.
So far, states that have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards have remained steadfast in their decisions. Only time will tell whether the lawsuit will lead to an injunction, which would result in the suspension of the Standards in Kansas public schools. The lawsuit may also have broader implications that reach beyond the state of Kansas. A successful lawsuit by COPE may breed similar lawsuits in states that have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards. For now though, it appears that the Standards are here to stay, and teaching any additional religious interpretations of creationism in public schools will not be a part of the science curriculum.