Creationist Movement Appears To Be Slowed by Loss in Arkansas
The recent defeat of Arkansas's "scientific- creationism" bill in court, and the subsequent announcement by that state's attorney general that he would not appeal the decision, appear to have taken some of the steam out of the creationism movement at both the state and local levels.
"Right now it looks like things are slowing down," said Chris Pipho, deputy director of information at the Education Commission of the States in Denver.
However, the creationists continue to press their cause in several states and school districts: New creationism bills have been or will be introduced in some state legislatures in the current session, local skirmishes over creationism continue, and two lawsuits over a similar law in Louisiana have yet to be settled.
First Amendment Violated
Federal District Judge William R. Overton overturned the Arkansas law requiring "balanced" classroom treatment for evolution and creation-science on Jan. 5, on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment's prohibition of state advancement of religion. On Feb. 4, Arkansas Attorney General Steven Clark announced he would not appeal the decision because he did not think he could win.
"I'll tell you what the insurmountable problem is," he said. "That's the law itself."
The outcome of the Arkansas case has been duly noted by all sides involved in creationism controversies.
"Everyone is saying that the court case is going to pull the plug," Mr. Pipho said. "I'm saying that in two or three weeks, when legislation-introduction deadlines in the states come up, we should have a better idea."
In 1980, Mr. Pipho counted 10 creation-science bills in eight states; at the end of 1981, he counted 23 such bills in 15 states. So far this year, he said, bills have been introduced in only four states--Georgia, Maryland, Florida, and Mississippi--although lawmakers in other states are considering advancing such legislation.
Creationism bills in state legislatures are running into problems--in some cases as a direct result of the Arkansas decision.
In Mississippi, the bill sailed through the State Senate in a quick vote taken on the same day that Judge Overton struck down the Arkansas law. But the bill has died in the House education subcommittee.
Litigation Costs Feared
Among the factors working against the bill, a member of that subcommittee said, was a "fear of litigation costs" such as those incurred by Arkansas.
In Georgia, a bill requiring "public schools teaching evolution to also teach the biblical account of human origin" has stalled in the legislature.
Maryland's bill is modeled on a new bill written by Paul Ellwanger, the South Carolina respiratory therapist who produced the model legislation on which Arkansas's bill was based.
Mr. Ellwanger has modified his bill to avoid some of the problems it faced as a law in Arkansas. For example, in its definition of creation-science, the old bill mentioned "the sudden creation of the universe, life and energy out of nothing." In the new bill "out of nothing"--called an inherently religious concept by the judge in Arkansas--has been removed.
The bill's sponsor has sent a version to the attorney general for comment on its constitutionality; he said he would drop the idea if so advised. In the legislature, the bill is still in committee.
In Arizona, a bill that was intended to avoid what its sponsor considered to be inherent constitutional problems in "balanced treatment" bills is now languishing in a committee chaired by an opponent of the bill, probably "never to see the light of day," a local legislative researcher said.
The bill, introduced by Representative James L. Cooper, chairman of the house education committee, would require that when evolution is taught in an elementary or high school, the teacher "shall not present the theory of evolution in such a way as to foster a belief or cause a disbelief in a religion."
Also, the bill would require the state board of education to devise rules and regulations for local governing boards to use in setting up courses in which the theory of evolution is taught.
Florida has three creationism bills, two in the State Senate and one in the House, that are still alive in committee.
One of them, SB 445, would require public schools to provide "unbiased presentations of both creation-science and evolution-science, equal numbers of classroom hours of instruction to the half hour, the same number of pages to the nearest 10 percent, and an equal number of books in libraries to the extent possible."
In Florida's Hillsborough County school district, which includes Tampa, the school board has delayed plans to teach scientific creationism in the public schools. A spokesman for the district said board members were influenced by the decision in Arkansas and are waiting for the outcome of the Louisiana trial because "they may not have the same problems with the definition of creation-science that Arkansas had."
Court Challenge Costly
The board's attorney advised it that a court challenge resulting from a board decision to require the teaching of scientific creationism would cost between $80,000 and $150,000 if the district lost.
School officials in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district in Bedford, Tex., are waiting for a "non-appealable, final court ruling" before going ahead with a curriculm plan devised last year for the teaching of both evolution and creation-science.
And in Medford, Ore., where people have been grappling with the creationism issue for four years, the board is hoping for a strong legal precedent to base its decision on, according to John Stafford, community relations director for the school district there.
An organization called Medford Citizens for Balanced Education is trying to persuade the board to pass a resolution allowing the teaching of scientific creationism in the schools.
The school board held a hearing in late January, attended by more than 600 people, regarding the resolution. Another such hearing is scheduled for this month.
Increased Pressure on Board
In 1980, the board solicited an opinion on the resolution from the state attorney general, who said it is not unconstitutional to require a balanced approach to creation-science and evolution. But "in general the board would like to see what will happen in the federal court system before making a decision," Mr. Stafford said. "The fact that there will not be an appeal in Arkansas puts a little more pressure on the board to make a decision," he added. "If they go along with the creationists, they will immediately have an aclu lawsuit and a bunch of angry science teachers. They would rather have had it simmer until the Supreme Court got a hold of it."
Proponents of Louisiana's law have called it more "defendable" than the Arkansas law because the two statutes differ in their definitions of "creation-science."
Creation Science Defined
The Arkansas law defined creation science this way:
"Creation-science" means the scientific evidences for creation and inferences from those scientific evidences. Creation-science includes the scientific evidences and related inferences that indicate: (1) Sudden creation of the universe, energy, and life from nothing; (2) The insufficiency of mutation and natural selection in bringing about development of all living kinds from a single organism; (3) Changes only within fixed limits or originally created kinds of plants and animals; (4) Separate ancestry for man and apes; (5) Explanation of the earth's geology by catastrophism, including the occurrence of a worldwide flood; and (6) A relatively recent inception of the earth and living kinds.
The definition in the Louisiana bill reads:
"Creation-science" means the scientific evidences for creation and inferences from those scientific evidences.
Louisiana Attorney General William J. Gust Jr. said after the Arkansas ruling: "The Louisiana law requires only the teaching of scientific facts that point to creation. It does not say what facts, as does the Arkansas law."
But Martha J. Kegel, executive director of the Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (aclu), said Arkansas's decision not to appeal the defeat of its creationism law should convince Louisiana lawmakers that their case is hopeless.
"It's blatantly unconstitutional and it's a waste of thousands of dollars of taxpayers' money," she said.
Although the aclu in Arkansas has not yet made an application for attorneys' fees, "conservative estimates" by the group indicate costs will approach $1 million.
The only real difference between the laws, Ms. Kegel said, is in the way they define creation science. The law in Louisiana "has almost no definition at all," she said. "Their main logic is that because they don't define 'creation science,' it's going to be harder to pin them down that creationism is based on Genesis. The vagueness problem is much stronger in Louisiana than in Arkansas," she added, "but our leading argument is still that it violates separation of church and state."
Two suits over the Louisiana law are pending.
One, Keith v. Louisiana Department of Education, was filed first in U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge by the attorney general on behalf of numerous plaintiffs, including the legislative sponsor of Louisiana's creation-science law, State Senator Bill Keith, against the department, the state superintendent, and the state board of education.
The plaintiffs are asking that the law be declared constitutional and that the department of education be ordered to enforce it.
State Superintendent of Education J. Kelly Nix has said he will not enforce the law until its constitutionality is settled.
The other suit, filed one day later and called Aguillard v. State of Louisiana, was filed in the U.S. District Court in New Orleans by the Louisiana chapter of the aclu That suit, like the aclu suit in Arkansas, asks that the law be overturned on constitutional grounds.
In the attorney general's suit against the state education department, two out-of-state lawyers active in the creationist movement, Wendell R. Bird and John W. Whitehead, have been named special assistant attorneys general. Their offer to help in the Arkansas case was refused.
Mr. Bird is a staff attorney for the Institute for Creation Research in El Cajon, Calif., near San Diego. Mr. Whitehead is an attorney in Manassas, Va.
No court date for either suit has been set, but a "status conference" on the aclu suit is scheduled for March 10.
David A. Hamilton, a lawyer for the state department of education, has filed a motion to stay the aclu's suit until the suit against the education department is decided.