AHA Warn TN School of Teacher Violating Church/State Separation

AHA Warn TN School of Teacher Violating Church/State Separation September 13, 2018

The Appignani Humanist Legal Center, part of the American Humanist Association, has sent a letter warning a school in Tennessee that it better stop a science teacher from teaching creationism or face a federal lawsuit. The school is Cascade Middle School of the Bedford County School District in Shelbyville, TN.

Monica Miller, AHA senior counsel, writes, “Children are urged to reject the scientifically accepted view of evolution in this class, merely because it conflicts with bible interpretation.” The teacher “recently played a video called ‘The Theory of Genesis: How Old is the World?’” in class, disputing the scientific consensus on the age of the world and instead promoting a “young earth” view. The letter also details that the teacher has played other videos with Christian overtones, mentions “the great flood” almost daily, and frequently tells the class that “God” is responsible for natural phenomena.

“The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment strictly forbids public school teachers from advancing religious views and presenting Christian mythology as scientific fact in the public school classrooms,” says Miller. “The teacher here is not merely sharing his personal religious views with students during class time, which alone would be inappropriate, but is aggressively injecting those views into the actual curriculum, making this an egregious constitutional violation.”

The American Humanist Association’s letter demands that appropriate actions are taken to immediately stop Christian proselytizing and coercion at Bedford County Schools and at Cascade Middle School specifically.

The controlling case here, of course, is Edwards v Aguillard, a 1987 case out of Louisiana that ruled 7-2 that teaching creationism is a violation of the First Amendment. Despite that ruling, surveys of science teachers show that about 15% of them do teach creationism rather than actual science and far more than that downplay the theory of evolution to avoid having ignorant parents berate them. A few years ago I tabled at the Michigan Science Teachers Association convention for Michigan Citizens for Science and we had many teachers tell us that they don’t use that word because if they do, it will trigger angry phone calls and emails from parents. So they talk vaguely about “change over time” and that sort of thing.

How can so many teachers get away with teaching what is illegal to teach? If no one complains about it and no one contacts groups like the AHA, ACLU or Americans United, there’s no way to stop it. And that’s pretty rare.

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