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Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987)

Louisiana's "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction" Act (Creationism Act) required any public elementary or secondary school that taught evolution also to teach "creation science." While the Act did not require evolution or creation science to be taught, it did stipulate that if either theory was presented, the other must also be taught. A group of parents, teachers, and religious leaders challenged the statute as an impermissible advancement of religion in violation of the Establishment Clause. The state officials countered that the legitimate secular purpose of the Act was to protect academic freedom.

Whether a statute that requires schools teaching evolution also to provide balanced treatment of creation science violates the Establishment Clause.

In a 7-2 decision, the Court held that the Creationism Act was intended to promote religion, and therefore violated the Establishment Clause.

The Court found that the Act did not advance academic freedom, but instead stifled it by restricting what and how educators must teach. As this was the only stated purpose, the Court concluded that the real purpose was to promote a particular religious view of the origins of humanity, or conversely, to limit teaching about theories that are contrary to such religious views. The sponsor of the Act clearly indicated that his intention in proposing this legislation was to prevent the teaching of theories that were antithetical to his own religious beliefs. For these reasons, the Court found that the "Creationism Act" violated the Establishment Clause.

"We do not imply that a legislature could never require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught. . . [T]eaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to schoolchildren might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction. But because the primary purpose of the Creationism Act is to endorse a particular religious doctrine, the Act furthers religion in violation of the Establishment Clause." (Justice William Brennan)

"Our task is not to judge the debate about teaching the origins of life, but to ascertain what the members of the Louisiana Legislature believed. The vast majority of them voted to approve a bill which explicitly stated a secular purpose; what is critical is not their wisdom in believing that purpose would be achieved by the bill, but their sincerity in believing it would be." (Justice Antonin Scalia)

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Last updated: Thursday, April 24, 2014 | 11:51:57