By Glenn Branch
November 12, 2018, was a date worth celebrating. It was the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Epperson v. Arkansas, which struck down a state law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in Arkansas’s public schools. In his opinion for the court, Justice Abe Fortas wrote, “there can be no doubt that Arkansas has sought to prevent its teachers from discussing the theory of evolution because it is contrary to the belief of some that the Book of Genesis must be the exclusive doctrine as to the origin of man,” finding the law in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
In the wake of the Epperson decision, anti-evolution campaigners regrouped with efforts to “balance” the teaching of evolution in the public schools with various supposedly scientifically credible alternatives: biblical creation, creation science and intelligent design. None of these efforts survived constitutional scrutiny, with these various forms of creationism defeated in such cases as Daniel v. Waters (1975), McLean v. Arkansas (1982), Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) and Kitzmiller v. Dover(2005)—all citing the Epperson decision as a crucial precedent.
That’s why the preferred strategy is now to belittle evolution, while remaining silent about any supposed alternatives. In Arizona, for example, although the superintendent of public instruction favors teaching intelligent design alongside evolution in public school science classrooms, she refrained from inserting intelligent design in a new set of state science education standards. Instead, she arranged for the treatment of evolution to be downplayed, even recently appointing a creation science advocate to a committee charged with revising the portions of the standards addressing evolution.
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