SCHOOL BOARD EASES CREATIONISM STAND By Michael Granberry, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

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SCHOOL BOARD EASES CREATIONISM STAND By Michael Granberry, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer May 21, 1993 OCEANSIDE, Calif. -- Hundreds of parents crowded into a middle school gymnasium Thursday night and shouted opinions about whether their children should be taught creationism in the public schools of nearby Vista. The meeting was moved to accommodate the large crowd and dozens of reporters, who listened to more than 40 speakers debate a proposed science policy that drew the threat of a lawsuit this week. The board, whose three-member majority forms a Christian right coalition that swept to power in November, ended the meeting without a decision. The proposed policy was put forth only for discussion but may be voted on in June. Near the end of the nearly three-hour meeting, board President Deidre Holliday agreed to soften the language of the policy that she and another member had introduced. Instead of finding "weaknesses that substationally challenge theories of evolution," Holliday said the policy should explore weaknesses that challenge "any theory of science." Officials for the State Department of Education had strongly objected to the earlier wording. Even the suggestion of introducing creationism into science classes has brought objections from state education officials and the American Civil Liberties Union, which announced plans to sue if the policy is approved. It has also brought national attention to Vista, a San Diego County bedroom community of 76,000 being viewed as the bellwether of fundamentalist Christians' attempts to influence school curricula. Against the backdrop of a poster bearing the slogans "United We Stand" and "Decrease the Violence," the board heard heartfelt pleas from parents who defended and attacked the teaching of evolution. Robert Heckler, 30, praised the three-member majority for its courage and said "George Bush would call the teaching of evolution voodoo science." Heckler, who lost a school board seat in the election in which his fundamentalist colleagues were elected, lauded the book "Of Pandas and People," a pro-creationism text that new member John Tyndall had sought to introduce in Vista's science classes. A committee of the district's teachers later rejected the book unanimously. Heckler attacked the committee as being biased and said the book "had made monkeys out of evolutionists." But he drew laughter and even jeers in saying he wanted to see an end "to all the backbiting board members have been doing in the media." Peter Welch, who described himself as a conservative Christian, said he had found "Of Pandas and People" to be "filled with omissions and outright lies" and called it tragic that a Vista board member wanted it taught in the science curriculum. Ruth Steiner, 66, drew a loud ovation in citing the Founding Fathers' "wisdom in building a wall between church and state. Can't you people leave the science to those who know it and understand it -- scientists and science teachers?" Kenneth Ray, 45, a Vietnam veteran and the father of three Vista schoolchildren, called evolution "the unifying theory of modern biology" and harshly criticized the board for introducing the policy when, in his view, it had promised at a January meeting not to renew the issue of creationism. Ray drew thunderous applause in saying: "If you cannot understand [the state's policy on teaching science], or you refuse to understand it, then you should resign."

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