Creation/Evolution Journal

News Briefs

The Louisiana case over the constitutionality of a two-model creation-evolution law, which passed in that state in July 1981, has gone through a number of transformations and postponements. The result at the present time is that the creationist case has been thrown out of federal court and the way has been opened for the ACLU case to be reentered.

In order to understand what these results mean, however, it will be necessary to retrace the history of this case.

On December 2, 1981. a group of creationists filed suit in the U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, demanding a declaratory judgment that the Louisiana creation law was constitutional and should be enforced. The very next day, the ACLU filed suit in the U.S. District Court in New Orleans against the creation law, demanding that it be declared unconstitutional. Once both cases were filed, the opposing attorneys began to work on getting each other's cases thrown out of court.

For a while there was talk of combining the two cases, but then, on March 18 of this year, the ACLU case was set aside pending the outcome of the creationist case that had been filed first. A date was then set for the creationist suit to go to court, and the ACLU was brought in to defend the Orleans School Board, which was a defendant in the suit. However, on June 28, the creationist case was thrown out of court because it involved no federal question. The creationists were not claiming that any constitutional rights were being violated by the nonenforcement of the creationist law, and, thus, the judge held that federal court was inappropriate. He determined that, because the creationists were suing to get a state agency to obey a state law, the case should be tried in a state court.

This ruling has reopened the doors for the original ACLU suit, which was set aside on March 18. A hearing for an ACLU motion to reopen their federal case is set for August 11. Meanwhile, if the creationists still wish to pursue their case, they will have to enter it into a state court.

Prior to these most recent rulings, there had been many depositions taken on both sides, a large number of witnesses gathered, and much hoopla in the Louisiana press. The key figures in the creationist suit were Wendell Bird of the Institute for Creation Research and Thomas Anderson of Indio, California (substituting for John Whitehead of Manassas, Virginia). The two California lawyers had been deputized by the Louisiana attorney general. The key figures in the ACLU suit were and still are ACLU attorney Jack Novik, who figured prominently in the Arkansas case, and Jay Topkis, an ACLU cooperating attorney from a leading New York law firm.

All the creationist bills of 1982 have failed, largely due to the Arkansas decision,

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but also because of the effective work of local grass-roots organizations. Bills failed in eleven states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia. In the Maryland example, the newest Ellwanger model bill was used and the Maryland Attorney General issued a comprehensive opinion arguing that Ellwanger's new wording did not render his unconstitutional effort constitutional.

The creationist school board push is also losing steam. For example, in Michigan the State Board of Education adopted on March 10 a strong resolution calling for an end to "teaching creationism or any course in religion." In Clover Park, Washington, a suburb of Tacoma, the local school board voted to remove creationism from its schools after the ACLU threatened to bring suit and the school district's attorney prepared an opinion against creationism. In West Bend, Wisconsin, the local school board voted four to three on April 26 to ban creationism. The three dissenting board members had wanted an even stronger anti-creationist resolution, one that would ban it from all parts of the curriculum. Then, on May 24, the Greenfield, Wisconsin School Board passed an anti-creationist resolution in advance of any creationist push so as to avoid the controversy that had occurred in West Bend. Later that same week, on May 27, creationists in Port Washington, Wisconsin, asked their local school board to institute the creationist two-model idea. Not only were they turned down, but a resolution was passed barring such instruction. And now, after four months of debate, the school board in Medford, Oregon, has rejected creationist efforts.

Jerry Falwell may have spoken too soon after a state board of education teachers visiting committee voted on April 8 to approve for certification as Virginia public school teachers biology graduates of Falwell's Liberty Baptist College. For after this approval was given, Falwell boasted in a television sermon and in a Washington Post interview that now creationism could be taught in Virginia public schools and in the public schools of the thirty-five states that recognize Virginia certification. On television, he declared, "So now we, with God's help, want to see hundreds of our graduates go out into the classrooms teaching creationism. Of course, they'll be teaching evolution, but teaching why it's invalid and why it's foolish, and then showing the proper way and correct approach to the origin of the species." As a result of such statements, the Board of Education teachers advisory committee met on May 21 and voted unanimously to deny teacher certification to Liberty Baptist College graduates in biology. The full Board of Education for the state will likely confirm the committee vote in July, since no advisory committee recommendation has ever been reversed. The reason the original teachers visiting committee voted approval was because Liberty Baptist school representatives insisted that the college presented "both sides" by also teaching standard evolutionary biology.

This version might differ slightly from the print publication.