During last night's Delaware senatorial debate, Christine O'Donnell was asked a perfectly straight-forward question: Do you believe that evolution is a myth? The question was asked because she had previously stated exactly that.
Rather than simply answering the question, O'Donnell opted to demonstrate that she is every bit as ignorant of established law in the United States as she is of biology. She said that her opinion is unimportant because local school districts should decide what is taught to their students.
In fact, however, local school districts do not have the right to violate the US Constitution. And when it comes to creationism, there have been numerous cases that have demonstrated that creationism -- in all of its guises from "creation science" to intelligent design -- runs counter to the establishment clause of the Constitution's First Amendment.
Nonetheless, O'Donnell was firm in her conviction that local school boards should teach whatever they want to teach. She said that not permitting creationism to be taught alongside evolution as its equal is unconstitutional.
What she apparently doesn't know is that was exactly the point at issue in many cases that have been decisively concluded. For instance, in 1982 the McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education case came about because the State of Arkansas enacted legislation mandating exactly what O'Donnell advocated this evening: if evolution were to be taught, "creation science" had to be taught as an equal.
The law was ruled unconstitutional by Federal District Judge William Overton, a conservative jurist from Arkansas. His decision was as clear as any could be. Consider just two paragraphs from his decision:
The conclusion that creation science has no scientific merit or educational value as science has legal significance in light of the Court's previous conclusion that creation science has, as one major effect, the advancement of religion.
Assuming for the purposes of argument, however, that evolution is a religion or religious tenet, the remedy is to stop the teaching of evolution, not establish another religion in opposition to it. Yet it is clearly established in the case law, and perhaps also in common sense, that evolution is not a religion and that teaching evolution does not violate the Establishment Clause.
Louisiana passed a very similar law to the unconstitutional one adopted in Arkansas. The US Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard in 1987 came to the same conclusion and ruled that it was illegal to teach creationism in public school science classrooms and laboratories.
More recently, intelligent design, yet another form of creationism, was also ruled unconstitutional on first amendment grounds. Another conservative jurist, John E. Jones, III, issued a ruling that had devastating consequences for creationists who were attempting to force teachers in Dover, Pa., to teach intelligent design (ID). Again, consider just two paragraphs from his 2005 decision.
We find that ID is not science and cannot be adjudged a valid, accepted scientific theory as it has failed to publish in peer-reviewed journals, engage in research and testing, and gain acceptance in the scientific community. ID, as noted, is grounded in theology, not science.
Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board's decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.
Nothing here is breaking news. Court after court has determined that creationism advances one particular religious belief and thus it cannot be taught in public schools. It's difficult to imagine that O'Donnell could be completely unaware of the precedents that have conclusively settled this issue. But it is even more disconcerting to imagine that O'Donnell would purposefully ignore the law in an attempt to pander to her base.
As The Clergy Letter Project demonstrates, creationism is opposed by thousands upon thousands of religious leaders. In fact, creationism is bad religion and even worse science. And, as I've shown, what O'Donnell advocated in tonight's debate is also illegal.