Evolution is the only area of science that courts have to render decisions on. No one initiates lawsuits over the teaching of gravity, physics, chemistry, or any other part of the science curriculum. It is important to understand how legislatures have tried to modify or restrict the teaching of evolution because it is an attack on the very basis of science education in America on behalf of a religious agenda. It is arguable that creationism and attempts by creationists to eliminate the teaching of evolution have little to do with science but a lot to do with law, religion, politics, and society.
Does it really matter if legislatures try to limit or eliminate the teaching of evolution? Is it all that important when school boards try to force science teachers to include non-scientific theories about the development of life alongside evolution in their lessons? Yes, people who care about science, religion, and secularism should care very deeply about efforts by some Christians to get schools to undermine proper science and replace it with theology
that is falsely presented as science.
The Scopes Monkey Trial
is one of the most (in)famous and celebrated legal cases in American history. It is one of the earliest cases labeled "trial of the century," applied so often that if it were true America would be in its 3rd millennium rather than its 3rd century. The Scopes Monkey Trial was a relatively minor legal manner involving little money in a small town in Tennessee, but many modernity and science were being put on trial by fundamentalist religion. Everyone was eager to find out who would win because it seemed as though the future and the very nature of American society were at stake.
Although not heard quite as often today, calls for "Balanced Treatment" were once a fundamental aspect of creationist attempts to insert their beliefs into science classes across the country. According to creationists, school science classes needed to balance evolution against creationism. Through such efforts creationists hoped that not only would scientific creationism
receive more widespread acceptance, but also that evolution would slowly wither away and die.
In recent years a popular tactic among creationists has been to get "disclaimers" put in school science texts. Because creationist efforts to have creationism taught alongside evolution have failed, they want to use disclaimers to cast doubt on the truth of evolution by telling students something like "evolution is only a theory." In fact, the close similarity of all these disclaimers is a sign that they are part of an organized effort by Evolution Deniers to undermine science in schools.
The debate over evolution grabs political headlines every so often, but more often in Kansas than elsewhere. Evolution is unique among scientific subjects in that it seems to be the only one which people attempt to thwart politically. You never see anyone working to repeal the 'law' of gravity or eliminate teaching atomic theory — but evolution does raise some people's ire, especially when you mix that subject with public schools.
In addition to usually losing political fights, creation science supporters also lose in the courts as well. Regardless of what arguments they try to use, the courts inevitably find that teaching creationism is a violation of the separation of church and state because creationists are unable to avoid the fact that their ideology is fundamentally religious and, therefore, inappropriate to teach students in public schools. Only science is appropriate for science classes and that's evolution.
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.