Kevin Krieg and Ted Corder have always taught their children that God created them.
Now the Post Falls parents want their public schools to teach creationism, too.
Their request is rekindling the long-running debate over the role of religion in schools.
Many parents share Krieg’s and Corder’s Christian views, but school administrators in Idaho and Washington say they cannot comply with their wishes.
Teaching any form of creationism - even “scientific creationism” - illegally promotes religion in public schools, administrators say.
The Institute for Creation Research defines scientific creationism as an idea backed by scientific evidence that an intelligent creator - Christian or otherwise - designed the universe.
Krieg and Corder propose teaching scientific creationism alongside the theory of evolution. The two men serve on the Post Falls School District curriculum committee, but they don’t expect the group to endorse their idea.
Still, they and more than 100 supporters brought the issue to a recent school board meeting to encourage more debate over the issue.
Both the Idaho and Washington state constitutions say public money cannot support religion.
In Idaho, the state constitution lays out very clear protections from the influence of religion in public schools, said Cumer L. Green, an attorney who represents the Idaho School Board Association and the majority of Idaho’s 112 school districts.
The Idaho State Constitution states: “No sectarian or religious tenets or doctrines shall ever be taught in the public schools…nor shall any teacher or any district receive any of the public school moneys in which the schools have not been taught in accordance with the provisions of this article.”
That means public schools could lose financial support if teaching scientific creationism is the same as teaching religion, Green said.
“To me, there is no fudge room in this language,” he said. “I’m not taking a philosophical position on this either way. I’m talking about the law.”
In Washington, “The case law seems to really lean on excluding” scientific creationism, said Rick Wilson, legal counsel for the state superintendent of public instruction.
“The majority of cases seem to say creationism shouldn’t be part of biology classes. Period,” he said.
Other attorneys disagreed.
If a school district could teach scientific creationism without the use of religious texts, “then it would pass constitutional muster, both under the U.S. Constitution and the Idaho State Constitution,” said Kevin Theriot, an attorney for the American Center for Law and Justice.
The center is a nonprofit organization based in Virginia that specializes in litigating free exercise of religion and free speech cases.
If the motivation behind teaching scientific creationism would be to expose students to different theories and not to expose them to religion, “I guess that would be OK,” Theriot said. “If evolution is a theory then you can have creation as a theory.”
But many people on the other side of the issue question whether scientific creationism is, in fact, science. If scientific creationism is not science, then it should not be taught in school science classes, they say.
“Creationism presupposes that there is a supernatural deity involved, and science has no way to evaluate that,” said Scott Stowell, the science curriculum coordinator for Spokane School District 81.
In teaching only evolutionary theory, the school district is trying to follow Washington state law, he explained.
“Creationism isn’t scientific theory, so at least traditionally it hasn’t been included,” said Joan Kingrey, assistant superintendent in charge of curriculum at the Mead School District. “Scientists would pretty vehemently disagree with teaching creationism in science.”
But because no one was present when life first appeared on Earth, backers of scientific creationism say, there are many unanswered questions about the origin of life that aren’t addressed in science texts.
Washington state Sen. Harold Hochstatter, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, introduced a bill this legislative session requiring that science textbooks be amended to clarify that evolution is simply a theory.
Hochstatter, R-Moses Lake, wanted to insert “a message from the Washington State Legislature” into science texts purchased with state money. His proposed statement begins:
“This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things, such as plants, animals and humans.
“No one was present when life first appeared on Earth. Therefore, any statement about life’s origins should be considered as theory, not fact.”
Hochstatter’s bill never made it out of committee.
Becky Ford, Post Falls curriculum director, said she worries that teaching creation science to public school-children would infringe on the rights of other parents and students with beliefs different from Corder’s and Krieg’s.
“We just want to be certain that we honor all of those beliefs,” she explained.
Adel Saleh, a junior at Post Falls High School, has some reservations about being taught creationism.
“I don’t know about it because there’s a lot of different religions. I’m Muslim,” he said. But he added that if the class could be an elective, that would be acceptable.
Kenny Clem, a senior and a self-proclaimed agnostic, said he thinks it would be illegal.
“That’s trying to push religion on the public schools and that’s not allowed by our Constitution,” he said. But, he added, “this is America and the majority rules.”
Other students say learning only about evolution infringes on their rights.
“Why can’t my voice be heard about the Bible with someone else talking about us coming from monkeys and lower classes of animals?” asked David Sharon, a junior at Post Falls High.
Freshman Jonathan Fetters said it would not be religion because “you’re not saying a Christian God; it’s just any God.”
Students should get “both sides of the story,” said Dillon Sostrom, a sophomore.
Parents can keep their children from being taught evolution in science classes.
A federal law allows parents to keep their children from participating in class activities that teach evolution and the theory of natural selection.
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