The American Civil Liberties Union wants a Cheney schoolteacher reassigned or watched more closely after he arranged a lesson in creationism for his science class.
The two-day suspension Aaron Mason served in June wasn’t enough for the damage he may have done to his eighth-grade students, ACLU leaders said.
When Mason introduced students to creationism at Cheney Middle School, he “diminished their ability to learn Earth science and also shattered the foundation for the students’ further science education,” according to an ACLU letter to Cheney schools Superintendent Phil Snowdon.
Jim Marisch, who presented to Mason’s students the anti-evolution theory of how the Earth was created, said the civil rights organization is over-reacting.
“It seemed like it was a mountain turned into a molehill, almost,” said Marisch, who heads Creation Outreach, a Spokane group that sponsors workshops.
“What was taught in his class was science. Just because it’s called creation science, people got real excited about it.”
Snowdon, who suspended Mason for two days without pay, said he won’t reassign the 30-year-old teacher or monitor him more closely than his colleagues.
“I’m confident Mr. Mason will do a good job,” he said. “He won’t be teaching that (creationism).”
Doug Honig, spokesman for the ACLU of Washington, said the district needs to take stronger action because it isn’t the first time Mason crossed the constitutional line dividing church and state.
He also wore a shirt with a large picture of Jesus on it when working as a high school wrestling coach, Honig said.
Mason, who has taught at Cheney Middle School six years, couldn’t be reached Monday for comment.
Earlier this year, Mason said he didn’t teach religion in his Earth science class. His mistake, he said, was tardiness in turning in a required form for guest speakers, a violation of the district’s procedure.
ACLU leaders also objected to a videotape Mason presented to his students describing a creation theory consistent with the Biblical account in Genesis.
In a quiz given to students afterward, “indoctrination” was disguised as questions, wrote Julya Hampton, a legal director for the ACLU.
She noted a question students were asked: “If we have evolved from apes, how many fossils have scientists found that are half ape, half man?” Marisch gave an hourlong presentation to 90 students, including a United States history class and a language arts class, Hampton’s letter said.
Marisch and the videotape supported a controversial theory that the Earth is much younger than mainstream scientists believe - ideas that are not part of the district’s science program.
Eugenie Scott, executive director at the non-profit National Center for Science Education, agreed with the ACLU that Mason isn’t cut out to be a science teacher.
“Maybe the solution is to allow him to teach a subject where he doesn’t get into trouble,” said Scott.
She predicts Mason won’t be able to leave creationism out of his lessons.
“People who feel strongly enough about religious beliefs to bring them into a classroom are difficult to dissuade.”