Should schools be able to teach scientific creationism? Should schools teach about evolution? Is evolution a religion? These are some of the questions courts at all levels have had to wrestle with due to the attempts by certain religious groups (always evangelical or fundamentalist Christian) to stop the teaching of evolution and replace it with teaching from their own religious traditions. Fortunately the courts consistently reject the intrusion of religion on public school science classes.
It is true that state governments do and should have the authority to decide what sorts of things taught in public schools; nevertheless, just how far should such authority extend? Many state governments have in the past outlawed the teaching of evolution - but is that a valid use of state power? Are there any secular reasons for banning the teaching of evolution, or are there only religious reasons?
If evolution is taught in public school science classes, shouldn't other theories about the origins and development of life also be taught at the same time? Isn't the focus on just one idea narrow-minded? Some believe that it is and therefore argue that there should be "balance" - if one theory (evolution) about life is taught, then "the other" theory (creationism) should also be taught.
There are a number of religious groups which object to evolution and which find that evolution is incompatible with their religious beliefs. Although they may be missing something and their conclusion may be mistaken, they are nevertheless sincere. Does this mean, then, that teaching evolution in science classes infringes upon the rights of these people and their children to the free exercise of their religion?
In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court invalidated Louisiana's "Creationism Act" because it violated the Establishment Clause.
Do teachers in public schools have a right to teach whatever they want? Do they have a right to teach creation science alongside or instead of evolution if they are convinced that evolution is wrong but creation science is right? Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that school boards have the right to prohibit teaching creationism because such lessons would constitute religious advocacy and, hence, such restrictions do not constitute an infringement on a teacher's free speech rights.
Some of those who object to evolution for religious reasons also argue that evolution itself is a religion or, sometimes, that it is a part of secular humanism which itself is a religion. Therefore, they conclude, teaching evolution in public schools violates the Establishment Clause (because it imposes a religion on students) and the Free Exercise Clause (in particular, of the teachers who are forced to teach it). But are such arguments valid? Is evolution a religion?
In an effort not to offend religious families who object to the teaching of evolution, is it permissible for schools to insist that a "disclaimer" be read to the class and/or placed in science texts, explaining that evolution is only a theory and that it should not be perceived as a challenge to traditional religious beliefs? The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that a disclaimer to be read before teaching about evolution ultimately had the effect of furthering religious interests and was therefore unconstitutional.
How much authority do school districts have over the material taught in public school classes? It has been established that they cannot ban the teaching of evolution for religious reasons, but can they legitimately exclude as teachers those people who might dilute the teaching of evolution because of their religious convictions? Some have argued that such an exclusion would infringe upon both free speech and free exercise of religion. A federal district court finds that a school may remove a teacher from teaching a biology class when that teacher, a creationist, cannot adequately teach evolution.