A taxpayer-funded University of California-Berkeley website that uses the views of certain religious denominations to promote evolution in the classroom is being challenged in a federal appeals court.
The Pacific Justice Institute, a legal defense group specializing in religious freedom and parental rights, will argue tomorrow before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the website is a blatant government endorsement of some religions.
The lawsuit, filed by Pacific Justice in 2005, focuses on a section of the website that arms teachers to counter student “misconceptions” about evolution. The site warns that questions aimed at exposing weaknesses in evolutionary theory “may be designed to disrupt the learning process” and are “a bit different from legitimate inquiry.”
The site derides religious faiths that “explicitly contradict science” by teaching six-day creation and links to a list of denominational doctrinal statements that align with evolution.
Roy Caldwell, a UC-Berkeley professor named in the suit, said the website helps teachers answer questions.
“One of those questions is, ‘Aren’t religion and evolution incompatible?’ and we say, ‘no,’ and point to a number of sites by clerics and others who make that point,” he said.
But the lawsuit raises the question, “Can a government funded website tell school teachers what theology is and isn’t to be preferred?” The website originally was designed with over $500,000 in federal backing.
“Whatever one’s views on the theory of evolution, it is completely inappropriate for the government to declare that some religious denominations are better than others. The Supreme Court has long held that government must not decree what is orthodox in religion,” said Kevin Snider, chief counsel for Pacific Justice.
Even if the list of preferred doctrinal statements was removed from the website, Pacific Justice President Brad Dacus told WND he still sees grounds for the suit.
“Telling teachers that these students’ questions are inappropriate is most appalling, because it’s an orchestrated effort to demote thoughts and opinions that don’t agree with state dictate. Whenever a government overtly minimizes questions simply because they are supported by religious theology, we have a society no less culpable than that exercised by totalitarian states,” he said.
The site cites as authoritative the conclusions from organizations such as the Unitarian Universalist Association, which in 1982 said its organization would “uphold religious neutrality in public education, oppose all government mandated or sponsored prayers, devotional observances, and religious indoctrination in public schools; and oppose efforts to compromise the integrity of public school teaching by the introduction of sectarian religious doctrines, such as ‘scientific creationism. …’”
Other religious groups used as endorsers for teaching evolution theory included the American Jewish Congress, General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the General Convention of the Episcopal Church and the Lutheran World Federation. The site also posted a number of letters from individuals and regional groups.