COPE v. Kansas Board of Education

Columbia, MO – My column in the Columbia Missourian and reprinted in my blog titled Let’s not allow science to be sandbagged by religion generated some interesting feedback, as you can imagine. One that came through a couple of times referenced COPE versus the Kansas Board of Education. Here is the opening of the summary from the National Center for Science Education.

“Citizens for Objective Public Education, COPE, and three dozen individuals, many of whom are students, filed a complaint against the Kansas State Board of Education in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas in September 2013… The complaint contends that the Next Generation Science Standards, NGSS, and the Framework for K-12 Science Education (on which the NGSS are based) “will have the effect of causing Kansas public schools to establish and endorse a non-theistic religious worldview … in violation of the Establishment, Free Exercise, and Speech Clauses of the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment” (pp. 1-2).”

The complaint is quite interesting and may lead to either declaring Creationism as a philosophy and not a science, or that non-theism as a religion. Either way, this is a strong First Amendment case that will set the new standard for science education.

From the filing, the inclusion of evolution as part of the science curriculum and exclusion of creationism “will have the effect of causing Kansas public schools to establish and endorse a non-theistic religious worldview…”

In a real sense, COPE is declaring that science is a form of religion and that Darwin’s theory of evolution is a dogma of that religion.

COPE is using a definition of religion as used in McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420, 461 (1961), that “By its nature, religion – in the comprehensive sense in which the Constitution uses that word – is an aspect of human thought and action which profoundly relates the life of man to the world in which he lives.”

However, the basis of the Court’s decision in McGowan was not the definition of religion but whether a state could require a “day of rest” and that was not in violation of the First or Fourteenth amendments. In short, this case involved commerce and not science or education. In addition, the definition cited by COPE was not the part of the primary decision written by Chief Justice Warren, but concurring argument by justices Frankfurter and Harlan.

That quote was really a historical definition, for Frankfurter continued:

“It is a postulate of American life, reflected specifically in the First Amendment to the Constitution but not there alone, that those beliefs and institutions shall continue, as the needs and longings of the people shall inspire them, to exist, to function, to grow, to wither, and to exert with whatever innate strength they may contain their many influences upon men’s conduct, free of the dictates and directions of the state. However, this freedom does not and cannot furnish the adherents of religious creeds entire insulation from every civic obligation.”

Here the court was speaking to the countries’ “blue laws,” requiring stores to be closed on Sundays. The origins of the laws were not to promote a day of rest, but to promote the attendance of church. By using their definition, Frankfurter and Harlan concluded that “no constitutional command which leaves religion free can avoid this quality of interplay” and overlap of human good. Thus if the law promoted a day of rest and was economic in nature, then there appeared to be no violation.

Science has a different definition than religion, one must include that here. Science is “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.”

One of the general agreements concerning the definition of religion is that of the inclusion of a dogma; the tenets of morals and behaviors dictated by a religious organization. Noting that evolution is not based on group morals or behaviors, it cannot be called a dogma. In fact, science does not discuss its own ethics, but leaves that to the philosophers and occasionally the politicians. “Science needs ethical guidelines because scientific progress also can open by-ways that are potentially exploitable by the unscrupulous. Logic not religion or political values should control ethical guidelines.”

Back to COPE v Kansas BOE. If COPE is to succeed in their claim that science is a religion, they will have to prove it has a dogma and promotes human morality. It is my opinion that COPE will not prevail in its pursuits to align science with religion.  Science does not promote “human thought and action which profoundly relates the life of man to the world in which he lives,” but to explain the world in which he inhabits.

About David Rosman

David is the winner of the Missouri Press Foundation's "Best Columnist" in 2013 (First Place) and 2014 (Second Place), the 2016 Harold Riback Award for excellence in writing, and the winner of the 2007 Interactive Media Award for excellence in editing.
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