Edwards v Aguillard

Edwin W. Edwards, Governor of Louisiana, et al., Appellants v. Don Aguillard et al.

107 S. Ct. 2573; 96L. Ed. 2d510; 1987U.S. LEXIS2729; 55 U.S.L.W. 4860

Teaching creationism in public schools is unconstitutional because it attempts to advance a particular religion.

Thurgood MarshallHarry Blackmun

Lewis F. Powell Jr.John P. Stevens

Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987) was aUnited States Supreme Courtcase concerning the constitutionality of teachingcreationism. The Court considered aLouisianalaw requiring that whereevolutionary sciencewas taught in public schools,creation sciencemust also be taught. The Court ruled that this law violated theEstablishment Clause of the First Amendmentbecause the law was specifically intended to advance a particular religion. It also held that teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to school children might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction.1

In support of Aguillard, 72Nobel Prize-winning scientists,217 state academies of science, and seven other scientific organizations filedamicus briefsthat described creation science as being composed of religious tenets.

Modern Americancreationismarose from thetheologicalsplit overand its rejection by theFundamentalist Christian movement, which promotedBiblical literalismand, post 1920, took up the anti-evolution cause led byWilliam Jennings Bryan. The teaching ofevolutionhad become a common part of thepublic schoolcurriculum, but his campaign was based on the idea thatDarwinismhad caused German militarism and was a threat to traditional religion and morality. Several states passedlegislationto ban or restrict the teaching of evolution. Thewas tested in theScopes Trialof 1925, and continued in effect with the result that evolution was not taught in many schools.3

When the United States sought to catch up in science during the 1960s with new teaching standards, which reintroduced evolution, thecreation sciencemovement arose, presenting what was claimed to be scientific evidence supportingyoung earth creationism. Attempts were made to reintroduce legal bans, but the Supreme Court ruled that bans on teachingevolutionary biologyare unconstitutional as they violate theestablishment clauseof theUnited States Constitution, which forbids the government from advancing a particular religion.3

In the early 1980s, several states attempted to introduce creationism alongside the teaching of evolution, and the Louisiana legislature passed a law, authored byofCaddo Parish, entitled the Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act.4The Act did not require teaching either creationism or evolution, but did require that, if evolutionary science was taught, then creation science must be taught as well.5Creationists lobbied aggressively for the law. The stated purpose of the Act was to protect academic freedom.6Counsel for the state later admitted at the Supreme Court oral argument that the legislature may not [have] used the term academic freedom in the correct legal sense. They might have [had] in mind, instead, a basic concept of fairness; teaching all the evidence.signed the bill into law in 1981.

The District Court and Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Louisiana, finding that its actual purpose in enacting the statute was to promote the religious doctrine of creation science. An Arkansas District Court previously held in a 1982 decision inMcLean v. Arkansasthat a similar balanced treatment statute violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Arkansas did not appeal the loss. Creationists believed the statute at issue inEdwards v. Aguillardhad a better chance of passing constitutional muster, and so Louisiana appealed its loss in the trial and appellate courts to the Supreme Court.

On June 19, 1987 the Supreme Court, in a seven-to-two majority opinion written by JusticeWilliam J. Brennan, ruled that the Act constituted an unconstitutional infringement on the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, based on the three-prongedLemontest, which is:

The governments action must have a legitimate secular purpose;

The governments action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;

The governments action must not result in an excessive entanglement of the government and religion.

The Supreme Court held that the Act is facially invalid as violative of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, because it lacks a clear secular purpose (first part of the aboveLemontest), since (a) the Act does not further its stated secular purpose of protecting academic freedom, and (b) the Act impermissibly endorses religion by advancing the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind.1

However, it did note that alternative scientific theories could be taught:

We do not imply that a legislature could never require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught. . . . Teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to schoolchildren might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction.

The Court found that, although the Louisiana legislature had stated that its purpose was to protect academic freedom, that purpose was dubious because the Act gave Louisiana teachers no freedom they did not already possess and instead limited their ability to determine what scientific principles should be taught. Because it was unconvinced by the states proffered secular purpose, the Court went on to find that the legislature had a preeminent religious purpose in enacting this statute.1

JusticeAntonin Scalia, joined by Chief JusticeWilliam Rehnquist, dissented, accepting the Acts stated purpose of protecting academic freedom as a sincere and legitimate secular purpose.7They interpreted the term academic freedom to refer to students freedom from indoctrination, in this case their freedom to decide for themselves how life began, based upon a fair and balanced presentation of the scientific evidence. However, they also criticized the first prong of the Lemon test, noting that to look for the sole purpose of even a single legislator is probably to look for something that does not exist.1

The ruling was one in a series of developments addressing issues related to the American creationist movement and theseparation of church and state. The scope of the ruling affected public schools and did not include independent schools,home schoolsSunday schoolsandChristian schools, which remained free to teach creationism.

During the case, creationists worked on a creationist biology textbook, with the hope of a huge market if the appeal went their way. Drafts were given various titles, includingBiology and Creation. After theEdwards v. Aguillardruling, the authors changed the terms creation and creationists in the text tointelligent designand design proponents, and the book was published asOf Pandas and People. This supplementary textbook for school use attacked evolutionary biology without mentioning the identity of the supposedintelligent designer.8Promotion of intelligent design creationism by theintelligent design movementeventually led to the textbooks use in a school district being challenged in another court case.Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Districtwent to trial on 26 September 2005, and was decided in U.S. District Court on 20 December 2005 in favor of the plaintiffs, who charged that a mandate that intelligent design be taught was an unconstitutional establishment of religion. The 139-page opinion ofKitzmiller v. Doverwas hailed as a landmark decision, firmly establishing that creationism and intelligent design were religious teachings and not areas of legitimate scientific research. Because the Dover school board chose not to appeal, the case never reached a circuit court or the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wendell Birdserved as a special assistant attorney general forLouisianain the case and later became a staff attorney for theInstitute for Creation ResearchandAssociation of Christian Schools International.9Bird later authored books promoting creationism and teaching it in public schools.

Creation scienceIntelligent designvs.evolution

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Scott EC, Matzke NJ (May 2007).Biological design in science classrooms.

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Justice Brennanmisnamed the statuteas the Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction Act in the majority decision.

Weisbrod, Carol (2005). Evolution and Creation Science. In Kermit L. Hall.

The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States

(2nd ed.). Oxford. p.305.ISBN12.

Trial transcript: Day 1 (September 26), AM Session, Part 1.

. Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.

Creationist lawsuit against UC system to proceedNational Center for Science Education. 10 August 2006

: The Supreme Courts Deconstruction of Louisianas Creationism Statute.

Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics, & Public Policy

: The Creationist-Evolutionist Battle Continues.

Oklahoma City University Law Review

Moore, Randy (2004). How Well Do Biology Teachers Understand the Legal Issues Associated with the Teaching of Evolution?.

, 482 U.S. 578 (1987) is available from:

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