American Civil Liberties Union

Position Statement on Creationism and Public Schools

For seventy-five years, the American Civil Liberties Union has been dedicated to upholding First Amendment protections of civil liberties. Consistent with the requirements of the Establishment Clause, the ACLU policy on religion in public schools states that "...any program of religious indoctrination — direct or indirect — in the public schools or by use of public resources is a violation of the constitutional principle of separation of church and state and must be opposed...." In 1980, the Board of Directors further clarified this policy by stating, "ACLU also opposes the inculcation of religious doctrines even if they are presented as alternatives to scientific theories." "Creation science" in all its guises, for example "abrupt appearance theory" or "intelligent design theory", is just such religious doctrine.

Among the problems "creation-science" creates in the academic environment is the foreclosure of scientific inquiry. The unifying principle of "creationism" is not the law of nature, but divinity. A divine explanation of natural data is not subject to experiment, it cannot be proved untrue, it cannot be disputed by any human means. Creationism necessarily rests on the unobservable; it can exist only in the ambiance of faith. Faith — belief that does not rest on logic or on evidence — has no role in scientific inquiry.

The constitutional defect of any law or policy requiring the teaching of creationism, or of "evidence against evolution," is not that it requires instruction about facts which coincide with a religious belief, but that it requires instruction in one religious belief as the unifying explanation of facts. This unifying concept is not a secular topic such as biology, chemistry, art, phonics, or literature which is familiar to the elementary and secondary school curricula. Instead, teachers are required to identify, organize, or teach facts and inferences supporting a specific belief — " special creation". To require public schools to marshal "evidences" and "inferences" in service of one religious belief, or to impose an embargo on a scientific theory that Fundamentalists dislike, is not to use religious works "for the teaching of secular subjects," (Abington School Dist. v. Schempp), but to place "the power, prestige and financial support of government...behind a particular religious belief" (Engel v. Vitale) The year-by-year, school-by-school, and teacher-by-teacher decision-making on whether and how to imbue "creationism" into the sciences and humanities promises continuing anguish in the educational community and assures inordinate involvement of religious groups in the affairs of government.

In our society, government is not permitted to instruct a child in religion, because it is not the government's job to promote a religious form of truth. No provision of the Constitution so firmly assures the essential freedom of the individual as does the Establishment Clause. The provision recognizes that choices about the ultimate meaning of life must be made in the private recesses of the conscience and not in the earthly controversies of political power. Were every person in this country of the same faith, the Establishment Clause would serve as a powerful expression that humans must decide their relationship to God, not at the bidding of the state, but at the calling of the soul. That we are a nation of many religions does not alter this basic function of the Clause; it only enhances the need for vigilance against state manipulation of belief.

Vigilance requires firm and consistent opposition to every effort to use the nation's schools to teach any biblical text, including Genesis, as literal truth, either directly or disguised as "alternative" science. To reject creationism as science is to defend the most basic principles of academic integrity and religious liberty.

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