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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Darwinism?



By leaving no room for other philosophical perspectives, Florida's proposed new science standards cross the line between science and faith and may violate the constitutional separation of church and state, says the attorney who represented Terri Schiavo's parents and siblings.

Pinellas attorney David C. Gibbs III makes his case in a legal memo he sent to the state Board of Education last month. Another lawyer in his firm told The Gradebook the memo will be updated today.

"Making Evolution the fundamental concept by which all life-science is interpreted or understood limits the scope of scientific inquiry and demands that all biological inquiry be predicated on the evolutionary hypothesis," writes Gibbs, who co-wrote the memo with Francis C. Grubbs, a curriculum specialist who works as a consultant for Gibbs' law firm and the Christian Law Association.

"Making this gigantic jump moves the evolutionary hypothesis from the realm of science into a philosophical faith-based belief system," Gibbs continues. "It has fallen into the same trap of which science has accused religion. It posits its entire interpretive rationale on something which is unobservable and untested."

Gibbs is "turning the Constitution on its head," countered Becky Steele, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

"He claims that teaching science, based on well-accepted theories backed by factual evidence, is somehow promoting a particular religion in public school," she told The Gradebook in an email. "To see how cockamamie that is, imagine them arguing that the Establishment Clause would be violated by teaching a calculus class that only expresses the ‘worldview' of mathematics without any sense of the divine."

The St. Petersburg Times  mentioned Gibbs' memo in this story  Dec. 4, but The Gradebook thought it was worth fleshing out in more detail. Steve Kluth at the Christian Law Association said Gibbs was unavailable and referred questions to Grubbs and Barbara Weller, another attorney who works both at Gibbs' firm and the Christian Law Association.

"When you take that leap and call (Darwin's theory) a fundamental concept … you're moving beyond what science actually knows," Weller told The Gradebook Friday. "This is the only field of science where people are not allowed to propose other ways of looking at things."

Weller said she and Grubbs were preparing a more extensive memo, which could be finished as early as today and sent to the BOE.

The science-as-religion argument is not new as a criticism of Darwin's theory. Former St. Petersburg City Councilman Bill Foster, for example, used the terms "Darwinistic religion" and "Religion of Darwin" in his recent letter  to the school board (read the Times story on that here).

But the argument may be new as a legal vehicle. In the memo, Gibbs also writes: "Since the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution does not permit public schools to inculcate students with any one particular belief system or religion (or non religion), if this standard is employed in Florida schools, as is now being proposed, it could face legal challenges for violating the separation of church and state."

- Ron Matus, state education reporter

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:32am]


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