Chicago Tribune, 8/25/93 Creationism gets toehold in class California district orders teac
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
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
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
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
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
"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
Nonetheless, the board's actions have divided Vista, a
conservative community of 76,000 at the northern edge of San
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."
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank