Academic freedom is the concept that free inquiry by faculty members is essential to the mission of the academy, and that scholars should have freedom to teach or communicate ideas or facts without being targeted for repression, job loss, or imprisonment. It cannot be disputed that in America the “mission of the academy” (public schools) is not teaching Christianity or that substituting the bible for science is the “communication of facts.” As far as academic freedom to teach religion, that is the purview of private religious schools and has no place in the taxpayer-funded public school system. However, a new bill was introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature that supporters claim will protect the “academic freedom” of Christians who teach the bible as science in public school classrooms. It is another assault on the Constitution in the long-standing war against science by the religious right, and an overt attack on the secular nature of the Constitution’s separation of church and state.
The Pennsylvania measure is not the first time Christians have attempted to defy the Constitution despite the most recent ruling prohibiting teaching creationism as science that a federal court ruled unconstitutional. In Kitzmiller v. Dover, the court ruled that “teaching ‘intelligent design’ aspires to change the ground rules of science to make room for religion, specifically, beliefs consonant with a particular version of Christianity;” the ruling should have put an end to attempts to teach the bible creation myth as science in public schools. In 1987, the Supreme Court invalidated another “academic freedom” claim of Louisiana’s Balanced Treatment Act that required public schools to teach creation myth alongside evolution because according to the court; it did not advance academic freedom “but has the distinctly different purpose of discrediting” evolution” and because its “primary purpose was to endorse a particular religious doctrine.” The court ruled the Louisiana law “violated the separation of church and state” and was patently unconstitutional.
The Pennsylvania measure is being promoted by a preacher, Donn Chapman, who claims teaching evolution is a triumph of secularists and “neo-Darwinists” who are “driving God from the marketplace and keeping us from being able to give God the glory for what he’s done.” According to Chapman, “secularists are getting our kids and saying, ‘You feed them, you take them to church on Sunday, but if they’re going to be intelligent, if they are going to get into a good school, they are going to learn to think like us. Heil, Hitler.’ That’s what it’s about.” It is ironic Chapman invokes Nazi Germany while fervently declaring that his religious freedom has been “suppressed” because science is taught in public schools while pushing to force the Christian religion down the throats of America’s children. He claims that anyone who even suggests teaching creationism as science is exterminated academically, and that since Christians are the “spiritual children of the founders of this nation, we need to take it back and give it back to God” by teaching the bible as science.
The Pennsylvania legislation follows laws passed in Louisiana (2008) and Tennessee (2012), and was set aside or killed in Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Indiana. The real issue according to Chapman is not about the bible as science, but about a clash of worldviews between secularism and theocracy. The clash was evident in another religious right legal challenge in Kansas where the Christian group, Citizens for Objective Public Education (COPE) argued that by teaching science in public schools “the state is ‘indoctrinating’ impressionable students” they claim is a violation of the 1st Amendment. COPE exists to “promote the religious rights of parents, children, and taxpayers” and claims that public schools “promote a ‘non-theistic religious worldview’ by allowing only ‘materialistic’ or ‘atheistic’ explanations to scientific questions.”
COPE’s mission is creating “religiously neutral” public schools that do not promote “pantheistic and materialistic religions, including Atheism and Secular Humanism” (Christianity is exempt) and it informs their incredibly naïve understanding of atheism and secular humanism. Atheism is simply rejection of belief in the existence of deities, and secular humanism is a nontheistic philosophy embracing reason, ethics, and social justice while specifically rejecting religious dogma, supernaturalism, and superstition as the basis of decision making. Secularism, by its nature, is precisely the necessary approach public schools have to take to avoid being transformed into Christian madrassas, and yet a significant number of teachers are wary of following the Constitution or curriculum that is not bible-oriented.
In a 2011 study of high school biology teachers, the authors found that pro-creationist teachers are not reluctant to teach their religion as established science, and that too many teachers are mortified at the backlash from conservatives for teaching evolution that is a violation of their academic freedom the religious right is so intent on protecting for bible advocates. According to the study, there is “a pervasive reluctance of teachers to forthrightly explain evolutionary biology,” and only 28% of teachers actually follow current standards, 13% openly teach intelligent design or creationism, and 60% avoid the topic altogether because of undue and unconstitutional pressure from the religious right on a crusade to put an end to secular academic freedom.
As if Americans are not besieged enough by conservatives waging war on every demographic in society, they have to defend themselves against the real and present danger of having their children indoctrinated into the Christian religion in the public school system. This country’s population is already scientifically retarded as evidenced by such outrageous claims that climate science is a hoax and the absurd proclamation by Ted Cruz at the Values Voters Summit that birth control pills are abortifacients.
The last thing America needs is an entire generation of 14th century peasants clinging to religious mythos as science they were taught using taxpayer dollars. It is the long-term goal of the religious right in their war on education, science, and the secularism inherent in the U.S. Constitution. If the religious right demands academic freedom to teach the bible as science, there is a proliferation of religious schools across the nation that will give any halfwit with a bible a job indoctrinating children to believe fairy tales are science, but they will not be “academics” and they damn sure better not get one penny of taxpayer money to do it.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.