Recent Developments in State Education Programs for Creation and Evolution in Public Education in the United States

Developments by state

In 1996, the Alabama State Board of Education adopted a textbook sticker that was a disclaimer about evolution. It has since been revised and moderated. In September 2015, the Alabama State Board of Education unanimously approved that evolution and climate change should be required material for the state educational curriculum, these changes to be implemented by 2016. At the same time, a referendum was set for potentially removing the textbook disclaimers.

In August 2008 Judge S. James Otero ruled in favor of University of California in Association of Christian Schools International v. Roman Stearns agreeing with the university's position that various religious books on U.S. history and science, from A Beka Books and Bob Jones University Press, should not be used for college-preparatory classes. The case was filed in spring 2006 by Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) against the University of California claiming religious discrimination over the rejection of five courses as college preparatory instruction. On August 8, 2008, Judge Otero entered summary judgment against plaintiff ACSI, upholding the University of California's standards. The university found the books "didn't encourage critical thinking skills and failed to cover 'major topics, themes and components' of U.S. history" and were thus ill-suited to prepare students for college.

On February 19, 2008, the Florida State Board of Education adopted new science standards in a 4-3 vote. The new science curriculum standards explicitly require the teaching of the "scientific theory of evolution," whereas the previous standards only referenced evolution using the words "change over time."

In 2002, six parents in Cobb County, Georgia, in the case Selman v. Cobb County School District (2006) sued to have the following sticker removed from public school textbooks:

This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.
Approved by
Cobb County Board of Education
Thursday, March 28, 2002

Defense attorney E. Linwood Gunn IV said, "The only thing the school board did is acknowledge there is a potential conflict between the science of evolution and creationism and there is a potential infringement on people's beliefs if you present it in a dogmatic way. We're going to do it in a respectful way." Gerald R. Weber, legal director of the ACLU of Georgia, said, "The progress of church-state cases has been that the U.S. Supreme Court sets a line, then government entities do what they can to skirt that line. ... Here the Supreme Court has said you can't teach creationism in the public schools. You can't have an equal-time provision for evolution and creationism. These disclaimers are a new effort to skirt the line." Jefferey Selman, who brought the lawsuit, claims, "It singles out evolution from all the scientific theories out there. Why single out evolution? It has to be coming from a religious basis, and that violates the separation of church and state." The Cobb County Board of Education said it adopted the sticker "to foster critical thinking among students, to allow academic freedom consistent with legal requirements, to promote tolerance and acceptance of diversity of opinion, and to ensure a posture of neutrality toward religion."

On January 13, 2005, a federal judge in Atlanta ruled that the stickers should be removed as they violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Board subsequently decided to appeal the decision. In comments on December 15, 2005, in advance of releasing its decision, the appeal court panel appeared critical of the lower court ruling and a judge indicated that he did not understand the difference between evolution and abiogenesis.

On December 19, 2006, the Board abandoned all of its legal activities and will no longer mandate that biology texts contain a sticker stating "evolution is a theory, not a fact." Their decision was a result of compromise negotiated with a group of parents, represented by the ACLU, that were opposed to the sticker. The parents agreed, as their part of the compromise, to withdraw their legal actions against the Board.

On August 11, 1999, by a 6-4 vote the Kansas State Board of Education changed their science education standards to remove any mention of "biological macroevolution, the age of the Earth, or the origin and early development of the universe," so that evolutionary theory no longer appeared in statewide standardized tests and "it was left to the 305 local school districts in Kansas whether or not to teach it." This decision was hailed by creationists, and sparked a statewide and nationwide controversy with scientists condemning the change. Challengers in the state's Republican primary who made opposition to the anti-evolution standards their focus were voted in on August 1, 2000, so on February 14, 2001, the Board voted 7-3 to reinstate the teaching of biological evolution and the origin of the earth into the state's science education standards.

In 2004, the Board elections gave religious conservatives a majority and, influenced by the Discovery Institute, they arranged the Kansas evolution hearings. On August 9, 2005, the Board drafted new "science standards that require critical analysis of evolution - including scientific evidence refuting the theory," which opponents analyzed as effectively stating that intelligent design should be taught. The new standards also provide a definition of science that does not preclude supernatural explanations, and were approved by a 6-4 vote on November 8, 2005--incidentally the day of the Dover Area School Board election which failed to re-elect incumbent creationists

In Kansas' state Republican primary elections on August 1, 2006, moderate Republicans took control away from the anti-evolution conservatives, leading to an expectation that science standards which effectively embraced intelligent design and cast doubt on Darwinian evolution would now be changed.

On February 13, 2007, the Board approved a new curriculum which removed any reference to intelligent design as part of science. In the words of Bill Wagnon, the Board chairman, "Today the Kansas Board of Education returned its curriculum standards to mainstream science." The new curriculum, as well as a document outlining the differences with the previous curriculum, has been posted on the Kansas State Department of Education's website.

In June 2013, Kansas adopted the national Next Generation Science Standards, which teaches evolution as a fundamental principle of life sciences.

In October 1999, the Kentucky Department of Education replaced the word "evolution" with "change over time" in state school standards.

On June 12, 2008, a bill (SB561) named the "Louisiana Academic Freedom Act" passed into law.

In 2002, proponents of intelligent design asked the Ohio State Board of Education to adopt intelligent design as part of its standard biology curriculum, in line with the guidelines of the Edwards v. Aguillard holding. In December 2002, the Board adopted a proposal that required critical analysis of evolution, but did not specifically mention intelligent design. This decision was reversed in February 2006 following both the conclusion of the Dover lawsuit and repeated threats of lawsuit against the Board.

In 2004, the Dover Area School Board voted that a statement must be read to students of 9th grade biology mentioning intelligent design. This resulted in a firestorm of criticism from scientists and science teachers and caused a group of parents to begin legal proceedings (sometimes referred to as the Dover Panda Trial) to challenge the decision, based on their interpretation of the Aguillard precedent. Supporters of the school board's position noted that the Aguillard holding explicitly allowed for a variety of what they consider "scientific theories" of origins for the secular purpose of improving scientific education. Others have argued that intelligent design should not be allowed to use this "loophole." On November 8, 2005, the members of the Board in Dover were voted out and replaced by evolutionary theory supporters. This had no bearing on the case. On December 20, 2005, federal judge John E. Jones III ruled that the Dover Area School Board had violated the Constitution when they set their policy on teaching intelligent design, and stated that "In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents."

On April 10, 2012, a bill (HB 368/SB 893) passed in protecting "teachers who explore the 'scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses' of evolution and climate change." Science education advocates said the law could make it easier for creationism and global warming denial to enter U.S. classrooms. Brenda Ekwurzel of the Union of Concerned Scientists saw it as a risk to education, quoting "We need to keep kids' curiosity about science alive and not limit their ability to understand the world around them by exposing them to misinformation." The passing of the law was praised by proponents of intelligent design.

On November 7, 2007, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) director of science curriculum Christine Comer was forced to resign over an e-mail she had sent announcing a talk given by an anti-intelligent design author. In a memo obtained under the Texas Public Information Act, TEA officials wrote "Ms. Comer's e-mail implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that TEA endorses the speaker's position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral." In response over 100 biology professors from Texas universities signed a letter to the state education commissioner denouncing the requirement to be neutral on the subject of intelligent design.

In July 2011, the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE), which oversees the Texas Education Agency, did not approve anti-evolution instructional materials submitted by International Databases, LLC, while continuing to approve materials from mainstream publishers.

Despite proponents' urging that intelligent design be included in the school system's science curriculum, the school board of Chesterfield County Public Schools in Virginia decided on May 23, 2007, to approve science textbooks for middle and high schools which do not include the idea of intelligent design. However, during the board meeting a statement was made that their aim was self-directed learning which "occurs only when alternative views are explored and discussed," and directed that professionals supporting curriculum development and implementation are to be required "to investigate and develop processes that encompass a comprehensive approach to the teaching and learning" of the theory of evolution, "along with all other topics that raise differences of thought and opinion." During the week before the meeting, one of the intelligent design proponents claimed that "Students are being excluded from scientific debate. It's time to bring this debate into the classroom," and presented A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism.

In 2017, Bertha Vazquez, a middle school biology teacher and director of the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science at the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, published a comparison of the nation's middle school science standards.