Courts may test evolution lesson

COLUMBUS — The state’s top education official said Wednesday she is confident a new lesson plan on evolution would withstand possible court scrutiny.

“The lesson plan is extremely explicit that those issues are to be discussed using the scientific method,” state schools superintendent Susan Tave Zelman said. She said the plan was reviewed by Education Department legal staff and the attorney general’s office.

The state school board approved the optional lesson plans Tuesday for districts to use as they teach new science standards approved last year.

Critics say the lessons include elements of intelligent design, or the theory that a non-specified higher power designed life. Supporters say the lessons offer scientifically valid ways to examine evolution.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio said it’s concerned. “The lesson plans themselves, in what are many respects very subtle ways, mirror many intelligent design arguments,” Gary Daniels, the ACLU’s litigation coordinator, said Wednesday. He said the group hadn’t decided whether to sue.

In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court adopted similar logic in ruling unanimously against an Arkansas law that made it illegal to teach that humans descended from a lower order of animals.

The court ruled that the only reason for the law was that a particular religious group considered evolution to conflict with Biblical accounts of humankind’s origins.

The issue came before the court again in 1987 when it ruled 7-2 against a Louisiana law that forbid the teaching of evolution unless it was accompanied by instruction in creation science.

“Out of many possible science subjects taught in the public schools, the legislature chose to affect the teaching of the one scientific theory that historically has been opposed by certain religious sects,” Justice William Brennan wrote for the majority.

In 1994, the issue came before federal courts again when a judge struck down a disclaimer required by a Louisiana school district before the teaching of evolution.

The disclaimer said the lesson was “not intended to influence or dissuade the Biblical version of Creation or any other concept.”

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