Legal Issues in Evolution
Since the 1925 trial of John Scopes, which investigated the legality of a Tennessee law that forbade the teaching in public schools of "any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible," a number of court cases have looked at laws involving the teaching of creationist ideas. Several court decisions, including the 1987 Supreme Court case Edwards v. Aguillard and, more recently, the 2005 federal district court case (in central Pennsylvania) of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, have ruled that the various forms of creationism, including intelligent design creationism, are religion, not science, and that it is therefore unconstitutional to include them in public school science classes.
U.S. law does not forbid the mention or study of religion as an academic subject in public schools, and creationism might be discussed in, for example, a comparative religion class. But, as civil servants, public school teachers must be neutral with respect to religion, which means that they can neither promote nor inhibit its practice. If intelligent design creationism were to be discussed in public school, then Hindu, Islamic, Native American, and other non-Christian creationist views, as well as mainstream religious views that are compatible with science, also should be discussed. Because the Constitution of the United States forbids a governmental establishment of religion, it would be inappropriate to use public funds to teach the views of just one religion or one religious subgroup to all students. Moreover, even in such a class it would be improper to teach these viewpoints as though they were scientific.
From Science, Evolution, and Creationism, National Academy of Sciences and Institute of Medicine. © 2008 National Academy of Sciences