October 1, 2008
Americans United for Separation of Church and State (1994)
One area of especially sharp conflict has been creationism. While all religious denominations espouse a particular theology regarding the origins of the universe and humankind, these theological beliefs vary widely among faith groups. "Creationism" as a term commonly used by Christian fundamentalists in this country refers specifically to the belief that the creation story found in Genesis 1 and 2 is literally true and that the universe and humankind were created by God 6,000 years ago. This view, which is at odds with modern scientific understanding, is not shared by all American Christians.
As such, the teaching of creationism as science in the public schools would promote a particular religious viewpoint and would discount the theologies of other faith groups, thus amounting to an establishment of religion and a violation of the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court has dealt with the issue twice. The Court ruled that public schools may not forbid the teaching of evolution just because some religious groups find it offensive (Epperson v. Arkansas, 1968) and that the teaching of creationism as science in public schools violates church-state separation since it is a theological concept (Edwards v. Aguillard, 1987).
Ideas concerning the origins of humans and the universe that are based on religion are appropriate when used within the context of religious education, such as sabbath schools and private church school instruction. These ideas are not appropriate for use in public schools, where students of many different religious faiths gather. Public school curricula — including science classes — must be kept free of sectarian dogma.
Public school educators and administrators should resist pressures to introduce creationism into science classes. While creationism could be discussed objectively in comparative religion courses or classes on the history of science, it has no place as a viable theory in science classes because it amounts to the introduction of sectarian dogma into the curriculum and violates the separation of church and state.