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The theory of evolution has created a big bang of lawsuits across the country in the last year, with scientists, creationists and intelligent design proponents all fighting for the right to teach in school their version of how life began. Adding a new twist to the evolution debate, a group of Christian schools recently filed a lawsuit against the University of California alleging that the university is refusing to certify several high school courses that teach creationism and other Christian viewpoints. This case goes beyond the fight to teach creationism. It involves protection of Christian school students from being discriminated against when applying to college. In Pennsylvania, a suit over intelligent design goes to court on Sept. 26, when a group of parents challenge a Dover, Pa., school rule that requires students be informed about intelligent design during biology. Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, No. 04-CV-2688 (U.S. Dist. Ct. Middle Dist. of Pa). Intelligent design holds that the earth could not have been formed without the help of an intelligent creator. In Georgia, a school district is appealing a lower court ruling that stickers on textbooks questioning evolution’s validity are unconstitutional. Cobb County School Dist v. Selman, No. 0510341 (11th Circuit Ct. of Appeals). And in Virginia, a George Mason University biology professor is in a grievance procedure with the university for allegedly barring her from teaching a cell biology course because a student complained that she was teaching creationism. Scientists and their attorneys claim that the new swell of litigation is part of a growing anti-evolution movement, where the new legal strategy for moving religion into the schools is to push for teachers either to discredit evolution or teach alternatives like intelligent design. A new wave? Scientists fear a new wave of litigation is on the horizon, where creationists and backers of intelligent design will fight to discredit evolution. “This is what we’re going to face in the future. Slowly, the word is getting out to religious conservatives not to promote intelligent design, but to promote weaknesses in evolution,” said Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, which defends the teaching of evolution in public schools. Scott sees potential lawsuits brewing nationally as she cites NCSE data that show 31 states currently have more than 70 incidents of anti-evolution pressure. The incidents include school boards debating intellectual design proposals, parents protesting evolution, and legislative proposals calling for challenges to evolution. But attorneys representing religious schools and proponents of alternate-science theories claim that the pressure is on them. They argue that the freedom to teach anything other than evolution-even in private schools-is either nonexistent or slowly dwindling away. That’s at the heart of the debate in California, where an association of 800 religious schools is suing over a new University of California (U.C.) policy stating that various Christian-themed courses do not meet university standards for admission. Association of Christian Schools v. Stearns, No. 05-06242 SJO (U.S. Dist. Ct. Cen. Dist. Ca). “We’re simply defending the right of Christian schools and all other private schools to select the viewpoints and the course perspectives that they teach. That’s simply what the First Amendment protects,” said attorney Wendell Bird, of Atlanta’s Bird & Loechl, who is representing the Association of Christian Schools in the California case. “This is the first time a state has gone from saying you have to have so many years of science or literature in high school, to saying what viewpoints you may or may not teach.” In the California suit, five high-achieving students claim that they will not quality for admission to U.C. because the university has refused to certify several Christian-oriented courses in literature, history and social studies. U.C. also rejected biology and science courses that relied primarily on textbooks published by Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Book, both Christian publishers. U.C attorney Christopher Patti defended the university’s actions, saying that the university has a legal right to set its own entrance requirements, and that the rejected courses were too narrow to be acceptable. “What the university is simply doing is saying that students-to be eligible for the university-need to have received certain college prep course content,” he said. “Christian schools are free to teach religion as extensively as they want, but the core scholastic content has to be provided.” Patti noted that students from Christian schools can get into the U.C. by completing course requirements at community colleges, or on the sole basis of SAT scores. He also noted that some high school religious courses meet elective requirements. With regard to the rejected science courses, Patti said, “What [plaintiffs] want to do in this case is get approval for a course that teaches religious doctrine in place of a science course, and that’s what the university does not approve of. It’s not that they contain too much religion, but that they don’t contain enough science.” That “not enough science” argument caught the ire of attorney Edward Sisson, an intelligent design proponent who believes the California case will “break the dam” in the ongoing fight over what students should be taught in science class. “This is extreme. The idea that students will be barred access to state higher education based on this claim is absolutely outrageous,” said Sisson of Washington’s Arnold & Porter, who has been lobbying the Kansas Board of Education to add intelligent design to its science curriculum. In the last several months, Sisson has put his litigation and government contract work on hold to fight for intelligent design, a theory he adamantly believes is scientific in nature, not religious. He claims the science community is unfairly labeling intelligent design as creationism, and is resisting any effort to challenge evolution or teach alternatives. “Students are being taught that we know [evolution] is a fact, and we don’t know it’s a fact,” Sisson said. In his push for intelligent design, Sisson recently wrote an amicus brief on behalf of a Hindu group in the upcoming appeals case involving the Georgia textbook stickers. In that case, the Cobb County School District is appealing a lower court ruling that stickers on textbooks questioning evolution’s validity were unconstitutional. In 2002, responding to local pressure, the Cobb County School Board mandated that all biology textbooks carry a label describing evolution as “a theory, not a fact.” A group of parents filed suit, claiming that the stickers carried religious overtones. In January 2005, a judge agreed, ruling that the stickers were unconstitutional because they conveyed “a message of endorsement of religion.” The judge also enjoined the district from teaching any alternatives to evolution, such as intelligent design.

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