Anti-NGSS lawsuit filed in Kansas

Are the Next Generation Science Standards unconstitutional? A complaint filed in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas on September 26, 2013, alleges so. The complaint in COPE et al. v. Kansas State Board of Education et al. contends (PDF) that the NGSS and the Framework for K-12 Science Education (on which the NGSS are based) "will have the effect of causing Kansas public schools to establish and endorse a non-theistic religious worldview ... in violation of the Establishment, Free Exercise, and Speech Clauses of the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment" (pp. 1-2). The plaintiffs ask for a declaratory judgment in their favor and for an injunction prohibiting the implementation of the NGSS in Kansas or, failing that, an injunction prohibiting the implementation of the sections of the NGSS to which they object.

NCSE's Joshua Rosenau told the Associated Press (September 26, 2013) that it was a familiar argument, but "no one in the legal community has put much stock in it." He added, "They're trying to say anything that's not promoting their religion is promoting some other religion," and dismissed the argument as "silly." Steven Case, director of the University of Kansas's Center for Science Education, concurred, citing previous court rulings as evidence that the new lawsuit "won't hold up." "This is about as frivolous as lawsuits get," Case told the Associated Press. The Kansas state board of education voted 8-2 to accept the Next Generation Science Standards on June 11, 2013, as NCSE previously reported, and the lawsuit is evidently attempting to undo the decision.

The complaint alleges that the NGSS and the Framework "seek to cause students to embrace a non-theistic Worldview ... by leading very young children to ask ultimate questions about the cause and nature of life and the universe ... and then using a variety of deceptive devices and methods that will lead them to answer the questions with only materialistic/atheistic explanations. ... The effect ... is to cause the students to ultimately 'know' and 'understand' that the student is not a design or a creation made for a purpose, but rather is just a 'natural object' that has emerged from the random interactions of matter, energy and the physical forces via unguided evolutionary processes which are the core tenets of Religious ('secular') Humanism" (p. 15). Both the Big Bang and evolution are emphasized as problematic.

Conspicuously absent from the complaint are any mentions of the relevant case law. For instance, in Crowley v. Smithsonian Institution (1980), the court affirmed the trial court's conclusion that the Smithsonian's evolutionary displays do not "create a religion of secularism." In McLean v. Arkansas (1982), the court commented, "it is clearly established in the case law, and perhaps also in common sense, that evolution is not a religion and that teaching evolution does not violate the Establishment Clause." In Peloza v. Capistrano School District (1994), the court characterized the Supreme Court's decision in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) as holding "unequivocally that while the belief in a divine creator of the universe is a religious belief, the scientific theory that higher forms of life evolved from lower forms is not."

The lead plaintiff is COPE, Citizens for Objective Public Education. In June 2012, as NCSE previously reported, COPE submitted a critique of the then current draft of the Next Generation Science Standards to the Kansas state board of education. Its vice president Anne Lassey told the Associated Press (June 12, 2012) that the group had members around the nation, although it was founded only in March 2012. At the time, COPE's president was Jorge Fernandez, a self-proclaimed young-earth creationist with publications to his credit in Journal of Creation and on the True.Origin Archive website. Fernandez was evidently replaced by Robert P. Lattimer, who was involved with Science Excellence for All Ohioans, a creationist group that tried to undermine the presentation of evolution in Ohio's state science standards in 2002.

Fernandez and Lattimer are not the only people involved with COPE with a history of creationist activity. Its vice president Anne Lassey is married to its treasurer Greg Lassey, who was one of the authors of the so-called minority report of the committee that revised Kansas's state science standards in 2005; the report systematically deprecated the scientific status of evolution. Albert J. Gotch, a member of COPE's board, was the executive director of the Akron Fossils & Science Center, a small young-earth creationist "museum" in the Akron, Ohio, area. Joseph Renick, a member of COPE's board, is the executive director of the New Mexico branch of the Intelligent Design Network, which periodically supports antievolution legislation in the state: in 2011, for example, the group paid for a full-page advertisement in the Albuquerque Journal in support of a (failed) "academic freedom" bill.

Two of the attorneys representing COPE also have a history of creationist activity. John H. Calvert is the founder of the Intelligent Design Network. Long active in efforts to undermine the teaching of evolution in Kansas, Calvert suggested the infamous "kangaroo court" hearings on proposed revisions to the Kansas state science standards in 2005, which the scientific community boycotted. In 2005, he also testified before a Pennsylvania legislative subcommittee in favor of a (failed) bill that would have allowed school boards to include "intelligent design" in any curriculum containing evolution. Kevin T. Snider of the Pacific Justice Institute helped to represent Jeanne Caldwell in her (failed) lawsuit, filed in 2005, alleging that the University of California Museum of Paleontology's Understanding Evolution website was in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.