Testing Intelligent Design and Evidence against Evolution in the Courts

The first decade of the twenty-first century has seen a flurry of legal decisions dealing with the two neocreationist approaches, scientific alternatives to evolution and evidence against evolution, and their variants. To put these legal decisions in context, recall the brief discussion in chapter 5 about the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Establishment and the Free Exercise clauses, taken together, require schools and other government agencies to be religiously neutral. In fact, the courts have been "particularly vigilant in monitoring compliance with the Establishment Clause in elementary and secondary schools" (Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 at 583-584) because students in a classroom are a captive audience. Among other things, freedom of religion means that parents rather than the government have the right to instruct children in religious views.

Also in chapter 5, you read about Lemon v. Kurtzman—the three-prong standard that courts use to decide whether a government action violates the Establishment Clause (Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602).

To be constitutional, a law or policy must have a legitimate secular purpose and must not, when implemented, have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion. The third prong of Lemon is that a law or policy must not cause undue entanglement of state and religion. In addition, the Supreme Court has added a test that augments the effect prong of Lemon, the endorsement test. This test, most clearly articulated in Santa Fe v. Doe (Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290), asks whether a policy or law would be viewed by an informed observer from the community as endorsing a religious view or religion in general. The endorsement test also considers whether individuals who do not adhere to the religious view being presented would be made to feel like outsiders in the community while people who profess the view would be perceived as insiders or as more favored members of the community. As we will see, the Lemon and endorsement tests have played key roles in recent lawsuits concerning creationism and evolution.

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