The impassioned debate over what role, if any, religion can play in the country's public schools resurfaced Wednesday in an Illinois courtroom and a Texas State Board of Education meeting, the Associated Press and the New York Times report.
In Illinois, a federal judge ruled against a state law requiring public school students to observe a moment of silence meant for prayer or personal reflection at the start of each school day. District Judge Robert Gettleman said the law was an unconstitutional breach of the separation of church and state.
The ruling ended a lawsuit filed by an outspoken atheist and his daughter, a student at a suburban Chicago high school, to stop schools from enforcing the law. Defenders of the law argue it is a student's personal choice whether to pray or reflect more generally; therefore, proponents say, the law does not force religion on public school children. But critics like the American Civil Liberties Union see the law as a veil for incorporating religion into public education. Gettleman has issued similar rulings in the past.
In Texas, the State Board of Education heard testimony from leading biologists and social conservatives about revising the state's science curriculum so that it would be more difficult for teachers to discuss possible weaknesses in evolutionary theory. For the past 20 years, Texas's science curriculum has required students to explore and critique "the strengths and weaknesses" of all scientific theories. If changed, the curriculum would call on students to "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations using empirical evidence."
Scientists testified before the board that the "strengths and weaknesses" language is unacceptable because there are no scientifically verifiable weaknesses to Darwin's theory of evolution. This language, the scientists argued, is a means for teachers to slip creationism into the classroom despite federal court decisions that have banned teaching creationism and "intelligent design" in biology courses. Some parents who spoke before the board said that their children had been intimidated and ridiculed by biology teachers when they questioned evolution and that there is nothing wrong with debating a theory that is not proven fact.
Previously, socially conservative board members lacked the votes needed to rewrite textbooks to include discussion of weaknesses in Darwin's theory. But when the board decides on this matter in March, both sides expect the vote to be close.