Anti-evolution group sues to block Kansas’ new science standards

Citizens for Objective Public Education (COPE) has filed suit in federal court, reports the Associated Press (AP) in The Kansas City Star, seeking to prevent the introduction of new science standards in Kansas public schools.  The standards, adopted by the Kansas State Board of Education (KBE) in June 2013, treat both evolution and climate change as key scientific concepts to be taught from kindergarten through 12th grade.

COPE opposes the standards on the grounds they promote atheism and violate students’ and parents’ religious freedom.  The standards were developed by Kansas, 25 other states, and the National Research Council. The new standards, like the ones they replaced, reflect the widespread scientific view that evolution is well-established.  Most KBE members believe the guidelines will improve classroom teaching of science by focusing on doing hands-on projects and experiments.

COPE’s suit, which was joined by a group of parents and students, contends the new standards will cause Kansas public schools to promote a “non-theistic religious worldview” by allowing only “materialistic” or “atheistic” explanations to scientific questions, particularly about the origins of life and the universe.  It also insists that imposition of the standards amounts to “indoctrinating” impressionable students in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution’s protections for religious freedom.

John Calvert, one of the attorneys representing COPE, argues the state should not be imposing a particular theory, but instead should simply say that “How life arises continues to be a scientific mystery and there are competing ideas about it.”  COPE’s suit is the most recent chapter in a long-running debate in Kansas over what to teach students about 19th century naturalist Charles Darwin’s theories on evolution.  Kansas has had six different sets of science standards in the past 15 years.

Calvert was a key figure in past Kansas evolution debates as a founder of the Intelligent Design Network, contending that life is too complex to have developed through unguided evolution.  Joshua Rosenau, programs and policy director for the Oakland, Calif.-based National Center for Science Education, said Calvert has been making such an argument for years and “no one in the legal community has put much stock in it.”

The lawsuit provides an alternative if the federal court declines to block the standards completely, asking the court to bar the state from implementing standards dealing with the origins of life and the universe until high school and require schools to incorporate “adequate and reasonably complete information” about those topics afterward.

Source: The Kansas City Star, 9/27/13, By John Hanna (AP)

[Editor's Note: In December 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Huffington Post reporting that Dennis Kruse, an Indiana state senator, was renewing his push to teach creationism in schools with new legislation.  Kruse said that his bill will allow teachers to discuss a range of theories from evolution to creationism. He said it will allow students to question teachers and bring new perspectives to the discussion.]

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