Josh Claybourn at In The Agora has written a post about the El Tejon case and I’m going to respond to it here. I used to write for In The Agora, as most of my readers surely know, and I have enormous respect for Josh. He’s a really, really smart guy who will undoubtedly show us all great things as he gets older. Still, I think his post here is wide of the mark for several reasons. He writes:
Yet John Mark Reynolds’ warning that ID will be “illegal” in all forms at a public school is in jeopardy of coming true. Parents of students at Frazier Mountain High School have filed a lawsuit in response to a philosophy class taught by a minister’s’ wife which attempts to discuss the the intelligent design theory. The Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed the suit, the same group which took part in the Dover, Penn. decision regarding the same theory.
I am far from an expert in evolution or the theories of intelligent design, but I’m a firm advocate of public schools having the freedom to explore and discuss each, or any theory for that matter, albeit not mandatory in a biology class.
There are several reasons why this is so inaccurate. First, it ignores the distinction between discussing ID and advocating ID. This particular class is not merely a place for people to “discuss” the issue; the syllabi (both of them), the course description and statements by the teacher to the press make very clear that this course was intended to advocate for this position, not merely to discuss it.
Second, and most importantly, the class actually contains very little from the ID movement. Almost all of the videos that are on the list for the class come from young earth creationist groups, and as the course description made clear, the class would be presenting “evidence” that the earth is only thousands of years old. Even the Discovery Institute admits that this course “advocates for young earth creationism.” The Supreme Court has ruled, correctly, that young earth creationism is an explicitly religious idea and it cannot be advocated in public schools. The fact that they’ve labelled this a “philosophy” course (one entirely devoid of any discussion of philosophy) does not get them around that clear ruling. You cannot get around the law here merely by moving the class from one department to the other.
There is a clear distinction between teaching about creationism and advocating it. There are elective courses where it might be appropriate to teach about, as in a comparative religion class examining the creation myths of various religions. In a history course about the interface of science and religion, perhaps. But just like the court ruled in striking down mandatory bible readings, it’s possible to teach about the bible without advocating it – and that’s the only way to avoid establishment clause problems.
When I first heard about this course from Wes Elsberry on Tuesday afternoon, I had much the same reaction many did. My first reaction, looking solely at the second syllabus for the course, was that the course might be taught legitimately with that structure. But once I looked at the first syllabus, the statements from the teacher, and the course description, it became very clear that this was a transparent ruse. They have no interest in teaching an objective course on different approaches to questions of origins, they simply wanted to find a way to teach creationist views and get around the court rulings, and they thought that by calling it a philosophy class they could do that. But they’re wrong.