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American Jewish Congress

The American Jewish Congress is a national organization committed to the vigorous enforcement of the First Amendment provision requiring separation of church and state. The First Amendment provides "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." This provision — often called the establishment clause — forbids the government from performing or aiding in the performance of a religious function.

Our appearance at this hearing today arises from our concern that Proclamation 60 (both alone and together with Board Rule 5) abrogates the establishment clause in three fundamental ways. The first constitutional deficiency lies in the Proclamation's glaring omission of any reference to the Darwinian theory of evolution. The second constitutional deficiency lies in the Board Rule's requirement that evolution be singled out for a special negative treatment not required in connection with the teaching of any other scientific theory. The third constitutional deficiency arises from the fact that the proposed textbook standards allow for the teaching of scientific creationism. Despite attempts to describe scientific creationism as scientific theory, it is our position that scientific creationism is a religious theory and that, therefore, the First Amendment's establishment clause prohibits its being taught as science in public school classes.

It seems apparent that, in establishing the proposed textbook standards, the intent of the State Board of Education has been to avoid conflict with a particular religious doctrine and to allow for the inclusion of religious theory in the science curriculum. The United States Supreme Court has made clear that the approach employed by Proclamation 60 is unconstitutional. In 1968, in a case titled Epperson vs Arkansas, an Arkansas biology teacher asked the Supreme Court to declare void a state statute which prohibited the teaching of evolution and which prohibited the selection, adoption or use of textbooks teaching that doctrine. The Supreme Court held that the statute was unconstitutional. In its opinion the Supreme Court stated:

"The First Amendment's prohibition is absolute. It forbids alike the preference of a religious doctrine or the prohibition of a theory which is deemed antagonistic to a particular dogma."

Under the standards so clearly articulated by the Supreme Court, Proclamation 60 and Board Rule 5, as presently written, fail to satisfy the constitutional requirement of separation of church and state. In order to comply with the applicable constitutional provisions, the proclamation and board rule should be revised in three ways. First, evolution should be clearly included in the science curriculum. Second, evolution should be taught as are all scientific theories and should not be singled out for special negative comment. Finally, the proposed textbook standards should make clear that scientific creationism is not to be taught as scientific theory. Rather, because there is no constitutional objection to teaching about religion, public school teachers should simply tell their students, when evolution is taught, that there are certain religious groups whose members do not accept the Darwinian theory and advise them to consult with their parents or religious advisers for further guidance on the subject.

The American Jewish Congress believes that this approach is not only fully consistent with the Constitution but is also an effective means by which to resolve objections to the teaching of evolution.

Should the Board of Education fail to take the steps necessary to make the Proclamation constitutional, then the result could lead to textbooks which do not meet constitutional standards. And that mistake would be a costly one to the taxpayers.