California Parents File Suit Over Origins of Life Course
California Parents File Suit Over Origins of Life CourseBy LAURIE GOODSTEIN, New York Times, Jan 11, 2006A group of parents are suing their small California school district to force it to cancel a four-week high school elective on intelligent design, creationism and evolution that it is offering as a philosophy course.
The course at Frazier Mountain High School in Lebec, which serves a rural area north of Los Angeles, was proposed by a special education teacher last month and approved by the board of trustees in an emergency meeting on New Year's Day. The 11 parents are seeking a temporary restraining order to stop the course, which is being held during the session that ends on Feb. 3
Last month, a Federal District Court in Pennsylvania ruled that it was unconstitutional to teach intelligent design in a public school science class because it promoted a particular religious belief. After the ruling, people on both sides of the debate suggested that it might be constitutionally permissible to examine intelligent design in a philosophy, comparative religion or social studies class.
But the parents, represented by lawyers with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, contend that the teacher is advocating intelligent design and "young earth creationism" and is not examining those ideas in a neutral way alongside evolution.
Intelligent design posits that biological life is so complex that it must have been designed by an intelligent force. Young earth creationism holds to the biblical account of the origins of life and the belief that the earth is 6,000 years old.
In their suit, the parents said the syllabus originally listed 24 videos to be shown to students, with 23 "produced or distributed by religious organizations and assume a pro-creationist, anti-evolution stance." They said the syllabus listed two evolution experts who would speak to the class. One was a local parent and scientist who said he had already refused the speaking invitation and was now suing the district; the other was Francis H. C. Crick, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, who died in 2004.
A course description distributed to students and parents said, "This class will take a close look at evolution as a theory and will discuss the scientific, biological and biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin's philosophy is not rock solid."
The school principal referred inquiries to the superintendent, John W. Wright, who was in Washington and did not respond to an interview request.
But Mr. Wright said in a letter on Jan. 6 in response to a complaint from Americans United, "Our legal advisers have pointed out that they are unaware of any court or California statute which has forbidden public schools to explore cultural phenomena, including history, religion or creation myths."
Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said, "This is apparently the next wave of efforts to bring creationism to schools, and that's why we want to dry it up immediately."
The school district, with 1,425 students, serves several towns in a mountain area where many students are home schooled. The special education teacher, who is married to the pastor of the local Assemblies of God church, amended her syllabus and the course title, from Philosophy of Intelligent Design to Philosophy of Design after parents complained. The course was approved by the trustees in a 3-to-2 vote, despite testimony from science and math teachers that it would undermine the science curriculum. The parents who brought the lawsuit said 13 students were enrolled in the class.
Kitty Jo Nelson, a trustee, said the community was split.
"If we had to describe this in one word," Ms. Nelson said, "it would be 'controversial.' "