ACLU weighs in on intelligent design

12/21/07 Seán Kinane
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Florida’s Board of Education will be instituting new teaching standards for science next fall. As WMNF has reported this month, the proposed Sunshine State Standards for science have been praised as a vast improvement over the current standards.

The emphasis on teaching evolution has motivated some proponents of the idea of "intelligent design" to lobby for the inclusion of that concept in the science standards.

Last Friday, the ACLU of Florida wrote a letter to the state Board of Education warning about the legal troubles the state could get in if bows to pressure and modifies the proposed science standards to include intelligent design. The author of that letter, Becky Steele, is the director of the ACLU of Florida’s Religious Freedom Project.

The school board of the city of Dover, Pennsylvania, insisted that science teachers read a disclaimer saying that evolution was just a theory and referred students to a book about intelligent design. But Steele said the School Board was rebuked during a 2005 trial.

Steele said the reason the ACLU wrote the Department of Education was because religious ideas shouldn’t be included in a science classroom, there is a place for those discussions elsewhere.

Connie Bertka directs the program of Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); she says the proposed standards should keep the requirement that evolution be taught in science classes.

Bertka said that science students should not be taught intelligent design and it especially should not be included in the Sunshine State Standards.

Opponents of teaching evolution say it is just a theory, but Bertka said that argument comes from ignorance.

Last month, Donna Callaway, a member of the State Board of Education, told the Florida Baptist Witness newspaper that she will vote against the proposed science standards if they keep the requirement to teach evolution but exclude “other theories of origin of life.”

Callaway has declined several requests by WMNF to be interviewed. WMNF spoke with one member of Florida’s Board of Education last week, Akshay Desai, who said that as a physician and scientist he recognizes the importance of teaching evolution in science classes.

“Yes, we will obviously support the science standard. At the same time I would be looking to listen to some of the other arguments and then see if they are concrete based on some facts and we would be open to review all other hypotheses if they are based on facts.”

Other state Board of Education members declined WMNF’s request for interviews. Candy Olsen is a Hillsborough County School Board member; she said she hopes the State Board of Education will make the logical choice and not include intelligent design in the Sunshine State Standards for science.

Hillsborough County school board member April Griffin agreed that intelligent design should not be taught in public schools.

WMNF attempted to reach Hillsborough County School Board Chair Jennifer Faliero, but she was not available.

Former Lakeland Mayor Frank O’Reilly is a member of the Polk County School Board. He told WMNF earlier this month that, while he believes in intelligent design, he said that it should only be taught at home or church.

WMNF attempted to reach members of the Pinellas County School Board for comment but they were not available. Four of their members told the St. Petersburg Times this week that faith-based theories should be taught in classrooms. They are Nancy Bostock, Carol Cook, Jane Gallucci, and Peggy O’Shea.

Board members Janet Clark and Linda Lerner told the Times that intelligent design should not be taught in public schools.

WMNF asked Becky Steele whether the ACLU would consider a lawsuit against the State Board of Education if it mandates the teaching of intelligent design in Florida’s science classrooms.

“Well, we’ll have to see what form it takes at the time, but that’s certainly the type of case that I think we would consider bringing, very strongly.”

Department of Education Commissioner Eric Smith was not available for comment, but he told the Times this week, “I’m going to reserve my opinions on the matter until all … input has been received and I have had a chance to review it.”

Learn more:

Letter from ACLU to State Board of Education

Previous WMNF coverage and more

American Civil Liberties Union of Florida

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

AAAS on evolution

St. Petersburg Times article on Pinellas School Board

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