Chicago Tribune, 8/25/93 Creationism gets toehold in class California district orders teac

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Chicago Tribune, 8/25/93 _Creationism gets toehold in class_ California district orders teaching of biblical story By George de Lama Tribune Staff Writer VISTA, Calif.--Marine biologist John Ljubenkov did not know what he was starting when he got up at a school board meeting last December and held up a 75 million-year-old snail fossil. A recent election had given the five-member school board a conservative Christian evangelical majority, and Ljubenkov asked pointedly whether they planned to introduce the teaching of creationism, the biblical story of the creation of the Earth. Nine months later, Ljubenkov has his answer. Two weeks ago Vista became the first known public school district in the nation to take steps that critics believe formally open the door to teaching creationism as an alternative to evolution theory. Defying bitter opposition from its own teacher's association, the Vista board by a 3-2 vote ordered that "discussions of divine creation, ultimate purposes or ultimate causes...shall be included at appropriate time in the history-social sciences and/or English-language arts curricula." In addition, the board mandated "exploration and dialogue" of "scientific evidence that challenges any theory in science" and decreed that "no student shall be compelled to believe or accept any theory presented in the curriculum." Vista School Board President Deidre Holliday, an evangelical Christian who said she rejects evolution as flawed science, said the vote would change little in the city's classrooms since world religions and cultural beliefs already are taught in history, social science and English classes in line with state guidelines. But a growing number of local and national opponents doubt the board's controversial move is so benign. "To teach creationism in a science classroom is illegal, and I think this is what this [vote] opens the door to," said board member Linda Rhodes, one of the two "no" votes. "The intent here is to teach creationism in science classrooms or to attack evolution." Nearly seven decades after Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan went head to head in the famed Scopes "Monkey trial" over the teaching of evolution, the school board has placed this small Southern California community on the front lines of an educational battle between the Religious Right and supporters of secular public education. Vista is being hailed or denounced as the harbinger of a national trend to bring "values" back to secular education or of a national movement to impose religious doctrine on public school curriculums. "I believe this is taking place in many towns across the country," said Tom Conry, president of the Vista Teachers Association. "There is a drive to inject into the public schools certain religious beliefs." Robert Simonds is founder and president of Citizens for Excellence in Education and the National Association of Christian Educators, two conservative Christian groups based in Costa Mesa, Calif. Simonds, who champions the teaching of creationism, denies any sinister religious conspiracy. But he said Vista is only the tip of the iceberg. Simonds said the board's mandates, though limited so far in his view, are the result of a national campaign that last year elected 3,611 conservative Christians to school boards across the nation, 38 of them in the San Diego area. The goal, he said, is to "make schools better." One way to do that, he said, is to challenge Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, which holds that humanity is descended from apes and more primitive ancient forms of life. The theory is heretical to fundamentalists who accept the Bible's story of Genesis literally. "All they intended to do was have a policy that would not portray the teaching of evolution as a scientific fact, which it is not...It is a theory," Simonds said. That kind of talk makes a lot of parents, educators, scientists and civil rights activists nervous. "I don't want to see religion taught as scientific fact," said Ljubenkov, 47. "They've done everything they can to portray creationism as a science, and it's not." A 1987 Supreme Court decision declared unconstitutional the teaching of creationism as science in public schools, ruling it violates the constitutional separation between church and state. Critics see the Vista board action as part of a national backlash to the notion of secular public education. "This battle dates back decades, ever since it first came to public attention with the Scopes trial," said Matt Freeman, an analyst for People for the American Way, a liberal lobbying group in Washington. "The real national battleground is California and Texas, the two states with the largest textbook markets." In the historic 1925 trial, Darrow represented a Dayton, Tenn., teacher named John Thomas Scopes against charges of violating state law banning the teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution in public schools. Darrow lost, and Scopes was convicted and fined $100, but not before the famous lawyer attacked the one-time populist presidential candidate Bryan in a dramatic cross- examination over Bryan's literal interpretation of the Bible. Scopes' conviction later was reversed. Holliday denies the Vista board's action is part of any national campaign. But Simonds confirms that Holliday is a member of his group, Citizens for Excellence in Education, and said she consulted with him about the board's plans. Another of the city's conservative Christian board members, John Tyndall, works at the Institute for Creation Research. The organization based in Santee, Calif., promotes creationism and publishes anti-evolution tracts. And David Llewellyn, a Sacramento lawyer who does legal work on behalf of conservative Christian causes across the region, drafted the Vista board's policy change. Llewellyn said his organization, the Western Center for Law and Religious Freedom, has received calls from Christians in school districts across California and the West for more information about the Vista policy. The California Department of Education and groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union are watching Vista closely, but no legal challenge is expected unless creationism is taught as science. "If that happens, we'll sue immediately," said Jordan Budd of the ACLU's San Diego office. Nonetheless, the board's actions have divided Vista, a conservative community of 76,000 at the northern edge of San Diego County. Pamela Foo, 27, voiced support for the board as she shopped with her three young sons. "I would hope they would start teaching creationism," said Foo, a Mormon. "That's my Christian upbringing. Now, I believe things have evolved from the past to what they are now, but as for me coming from some speck of dirt out in the universe, I don't know about that." But across town, Grant Glausser, 35, said he is worried for his son, Finn, 5. "If the policy remains in place when my boy gets to [upper grades], we'll send him to private school or to another public school."

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