Barth Keck

Intelligent Design. Surely you remember that concept making news years ago, the one claiming “certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection.”

Well, Intelligent Design is about to make a comeback. Mark my words.

The year was 2005. The board of Dover Area (Pa.) schools required teachers to read a disclaimer before teaching evolution due to “gaps/problems in Darwin’s theory and of other theories of evolution. The disclaimer stated that the school only taught evolution because it was mandated by the state, and that Intelligent Design (ID) is an alternative explanation of the origins of life that differs from evolution.”

Parents and teachers sued the school district, arguing that the board’s disclaimer violated the establishment clause of the Constitution. The Pennsylvania District Court agreed, finding Intelligent Design indistinguishable from creationism and ruling that “the district’s policy impermissibly advanced religion.”

That 2005 decision in Pennsylvania was the most prominent court battle involving evolution and schools since the “Scopes Monkey Trial” in 1925. Tennessee biology teacher John Scopes was found guilty and fined $100 for teaching evolution, a violation of a state law that stood until 1967.

When Intelligent Design emerged in Pennsylvania more than three decades after all remaining anti-evolution laws were struck down, it sparked what might be called “Scopes Monkey Trial: The Sequel.” Except this time, religion lost.

First, the court applied the “Endorsement Test,” according to the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University, “which asks whether government action conveys a message of endorsement or disapproval [of a religion] to a reasonable, objective observer.” The court found that “since ID is basically the theory of creationism under different terms, it was not a science, but a religious belief. Thus, the policy failed the Endorsement Test.”

Next, the court measured the board’s disclaimer against the precedent set in Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) – the “Lemon test” – which asks “whether the purpose and effect of government action is to advance religion. The court found numerous instances in which individuals indicated that the purpose of the policy was to explicitly advance religion; the superintendent of the board and its members had repeatedly discussed ways to teach creationism, and the board contacted certain proponents of creationism who ultimately suggested ID as a viable alternative.”

In the end, teaching Intelligent Design was deemed illegal, a clear violation of “the separation of church and state” as set forth in the First Amendment’s establishment clause. Cased closed.

Or so we thought.

Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court of the United States “sided with a high school football coach who claimed the right to pray on the 50-yard line after each game, joined by those players who wanted to participate. The 6-to-3 decision was the latest example of the court’s conservative supermajority requiring more accommodation for religion in public schools and less separation between church and state.”

Curiously, “The majority … said it was abandoning the Lemon test and its ‘endorsement test offshoot’ to evaluate establishment clause questions,” according to the American Bar Association Journal.

In the end, teaching Intelligent Design was deemed illegal, a clear violation of “the separation of church and state” as set forth in the First Amendment’s establishment clause. Cased closed.

Or so we thought.

“Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse Republic,” wrote Justice Neil Gorsuch for the majority. “Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a personal religious observance, based on a mistaken view that it has a duty to suppress religious observances even as it allows comparable secular speech. The Constitution neither mandates nor tolerates that kind of discrimination.”

Given this decision, what’s to stop a school system from placing Intelligent Design in the science curriculum in 2022? Florida has already incorporated religion into its new civics framework.

“Several South Florida high school educators are alarmed that a new state civics initiative designed to prepare students to be ‘virtuous citizens’ is infused with a Christian and conservative ideology after a three-day training session in Broward County [two weeks ago],” reported the Miami Herald.

“A review of more than 200 pages of the state’s presentations shows the founding fathers’ intent and the ‘misconceptions’ about their thinking were a main theme of the training,” continued the Herald story. “One slide underscored that the ‘Founders expected religion to be promoted because they believed it to be essential to civic virtue’.”

So, where does Connecticut stand amid all of the controversy regarding schools and religion? Will Intelligent Design suddenly emerge in statewide biology classes that for years have been teaching evolution uneventfully?

If Ned Lamont is re-elected governor in November, it is likely – based upon his response to other recent Supreme Court decisions – that he would work to derail the insertion of Intelligent Design into the science curriculum. A legislature controlled by Democrats would most certainly support him.

Republican challenger Bob Stefanowski, meanwhile, has taken a more ambiguous tack, relying on the du jour catchphrase “parental choice” to sum up his stance on education: “In order to ensure our children’s future, Connecticut’s school districts should remain local and we should give parents more choice as to where and how their children are educated.”Even if Connecticut never sees angry parents storming school board meetings to demand the teaching of Intelligent Design – hardly a given in today’s political climate – it will happen somewhere. Probably sooner than later. Mark my words.

Barth Keck

Barth Keck

Barth Keck is in his 32st year as an English teacher and 18th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition. Follow Barth on Twitter @keckb33 or email him here.

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