Sunday, July 06, 2008

Comer: TEA’s Neutrality on Evolution v. Creationism is Unconstitutional

Former Texas Education Agency Science Director, Chris Comer, has filed suit in federal court charging that her firing was a violation of the US Constitution’s Establishment Clause.

I was waiting for this. This is a neatly-timed lawsuit, I think, filed just as the TEA is set to review the state’s science curriculum. The review comes in advance of Texas decennial textbook adoption process, a process that affects how publication houses present science content in their textbooks, because Texas’ adoption policy is so monolithic, it affects how textbooks are written for national consumption.

Comer was forced to resign, it will be recalled, as a result of an email message that she forwarded internally within the TEA, and externally, that announced a a talk by National Center for Science Education board member Dr. Barbara Forrest, co-author of “Creationism's Trojan Horse”, a critique of intelligent design and its roots in creationism.

Charges were leveled by Lizzette Reynolds, a recent TEA hire, who came to the TEA from an appointed position at the Bush Regime’s Department of Education, that Comer had violated the TEA’s “Neutrality Policy” regarding the teaching of the origin of life and species. Specifically, that she violated the policy by showing a preference that was against creationism and intelligent design. Comer countered at the time that by forwarding the message, she was not indicating a preference, and simply attached the notation “FYI” to the forwarded message.

At first, Comer was given a “30-day suspension,” but as we later found out, this was just to give Reynolds enough time to dredge up other trumped up but related charges, and forced Comer’s ultimate resignation.

Now Comer is back, and with all guns blazing. Gone is the excuse that an “FYI” is not an endorsement, it isn’t but that wasn’t the issue in the first place. The issue is, as stated in Comer’s lawsuit, that

“The Texas Education Agency has a policy of purported “neutrality” on teaching creationism as science in public schools. By professing “neutrality,” the Agency credits creationism as a valid scientific theory. Creationism, however, is not a valid scientific theory; it is a religious belief. The Agency’s policy is not neutral at all, because it has the purpose or effect of inviting dispute about an issue – teaching creationism as science in public schools – that is forbidden by the Establishment Clause.”
This issue has already been settled in the US Supreme Court. In Edwards v. Aguillard (1987) the Court held that a Louisana law promoting the teaching of creationism as a science in concert with the teaching of evolution violates the Establishment Clause because “it lacks a clear secular purpose.” The Louisiana law essentially placed creationism and evolution on equal footing, each with equal weight, but in doing so, the Court found that the teaching of creationism had a religious purpose, and not a secular one. In Texas now, we have a similar issue, but with a different angle: the “Neutrality Policy” at the TEA is essentially the same as Louisiana’s law that gives equal weight to both creationism (or intelligent design) and evolution.

Why be neutral on a controversy when the conversants are not considered as equals?

So Comer has a strong case, and Supreme Court precedent behind her. What I hope, and this is very much out on a limb for me, is that the lawsuit will serve as a cloud over the TEA as it takes up its reconsideration of the state’s science curriculum.

If the TEA was not aware of it before, it should be now: the world is watching what they do.


Paul said...

The theory of evolution is supported by genetics. Creationism runs counter to genetics because it is religious in nature not scientific. Intelligent Design is a term stolen from the Deists. We tend to lean toward science to learn about our universe, not superstition or "revealed religion".

Hal said...

All good points, Paul. I just wanted to point out that "Evolution" is not a theory. A theory deals with explanations for the causes of things. Evolution, taken by itself, is a biological principle, as close to a physical law as you can get.

As close to "fact" as you can get.

Placing Evolution as a mere theory, on the same level with other theories, is a major pitfall that has been dug for us by creationists. In their war of words, then, we non-creationists are commonly drawn in by their rhetoric.

There are many theories of evolution, Darwin's being one (by natural selection). There are others, and none of them are mutually exclusive (punctuation, catastrophism, genetic drift).

Keep this in mind, evolution is a fact. Evolution has occurred. How it has occurred is open to speculation and theory.

Paul said...

Yes, evolution is a fact. However, when it comes to discussion as to HOW it occurs, as per the last line of your post, the nasty word "theory" is bound to pop up. Texas school books will not merely state that evolution is a fact as a single sentence and leave it at that. The books will discuss HOW it happens and thus that ugly word (theory) is bound to arise repeatedly.

Yes, evolution happens as a matter of fact. Still in the absence of an empirical formula, all discussion of it is still (argh!) theory. And until evolution crosses that empirical threshold, that is the way it is.
BTW I found your response somewhat "kneejerk"

Hal said...

No problem Paul. I have been accused of having kneejerk reactions many times before. It's what keeps me the cute thing that I am.