The purpose of Our Conscience weblog is to facilitate a greater discussion and understanding of church and state separation in our community and in others. Underlying this is the value that each individual should be allowed to follow the dictates of his or her own conscience without influence, coercion, or direction from the State when it comes to matters of religion.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Washington Post Editorial: God and Darwin

Our Conscience

Monday, January 24, 2005; Page A14

WITH THEIR SLICK Web sites, pseudo-academic conferences and savvy public relations, the proponents of "intelligent design" -- a "theory" that challenges the validity of Darwinian evolution -- are far more sophisticated than the creationists of yore. Rather than attempt to prove that the world was created in six days, they operate simply by casting doubt on evolution, largely using the time-honored argument that intelligent life could not have come about by a random natural process and must have been the work of a single creator. They do no experiments and do not publish in recognized scientific journals. Nevertheless, this new generation of anti-evolutionists, arguing that children have a "right to question" scientific truths, has had widespread success in undermining evolutionary theory.

Perhaps partly as a result, a startling 55 percent of Americans -- and 67 percent of those who voted for President Bush -- do not, according to a recent CBS poll, believe in evolution at all. According to a recent Gallup poll, about a third of Americans believe that the Bible is literally true. Some of these believers have persuaded politicians, school boards and parents across the country to question their children's textbooks. In states as diverse as Wisconsin, South Carolina, Kansas, Montana, Arkansas and Mississippi, school boards are arguing over whether to include "intelligent design" in their curriculums. Last week, in Pennsylvania's Dover School District, an administrator read a statement to ninth-grade biology students saying that evolution is not fact. Over the objections of ninth-grade science teachers and of parents who have filed suit, he offered "intelligent design" as an alternative. Also last week, a Georgia county school board voted to appeal a judge's decision to remove stickers describing evolution as a "theory, not a fact" from school textbooks. In both cases, the anti-evolutionists have been very careful in their choice of language, eschewing mentions of God or the Bible. Nevertheless, their intent was clear. As the lawsuit filed by Dover parents states, "intelligent design is neither scientific nor a theory in the scientific sense; it is an inherently religious argument or assertion that falls outside the realm of science." Discussion of religion in a history or philosophy class is legitimate and appropriate. To teach intelligent design as science in public schools is a clear violation of the principle of separation of church and state.

It also violates principles of common sense. In fact, the breadth and extent of the anti-evolutionary movement that has spread almost unnoticed across the country should force American politicians to think twice about how their public expressions of religious belief are beginning to affect education and science. The deeply religious nature of the United States should not be allowed to stand in the way of the thirst for knowledge or the pursuit of science. Once it does, it won't be long before the American scientific community -- which already has trouble finding enough young Americans to fill its graduate schools -- ceases to lead the world.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Houston Chronicle: Preacher plans to watch his wording this time

Our Conscience

The first time the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell took the stage at the close of a presidential inauguration, his prayer caused more of a stir than he intended.

That was 2001 and the official start of President Bush's first term. Caldwell called on a God of "peace, prudent policy and nonpartisanship," and asked for an end to inequities of wealth and education.

He offered his "humble prayer in the name that's above all other names, Jesus the Christ."

And he ended by saying:

"Let all who agree say, Amen."

For some, that was the rub.

What about those who don't consider Jesus as the name above all others, the critics asked?

"I did take some flak for that and, quite frankly, rightfully so," said Caldwell, senior pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church. "It was never my intention to exclude or insult anyone. I chalk it up to public prayer naiveté."

Thursday, Caldwell will again pray at the close of Bush's inauguration as president — this time with experience under his belt. And he may have more listeners, Caldwell said.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

SCOTUSblog: Newdow challenges inauguration prayers

Our Conscience

Sacramento atheist Michael A Newdow, acting as his own attorney, on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to ban prayers from Thursday’s presidential inauguration ceremony, and asked Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist not to join in the Court’s action on his plea – as anticipated by a post on this blog Monday.

Condemning a practice that he recalled had occurred at every presidential oath-taking since 1937, Newdow’s emergency request for an injunction (docket 04A623) argues: “These prayers have all been given for a religious purpose, have all had religious effects, have all endorsed religious beliefs, have all placed government’s imprimatur upon religious doctrine, have all been coercive, have all been divisive, and have all violated the neutrality that every sitting Justice has agreed is a key to Establishment Clause jurisprudence.”

Full blog report here

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Judge: Cobb Evolution stickers unconstitutional

A federal judge ruled today that the evlolution disclaimer stickers that were placed on biology text books by Cobb County Georgia are unconstitutional.

The stickers read: "This textbook contains material on evolution Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding. the origin of living things This material should be approached with an open mind, sfudied carefully, and critically considered."

US District Judge Clarence Cooper:

"To be clear, this opinion resolves only a legal dispute Specifically, the narrow issue raised by this facial challenge is whether the sticker placed in certain Cobb County School District science textbooks violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and/or Article 1, Section II, Paragraph VII of the Constitution of the Stake of Georgia."


"Due to the manner in which the sticker refers to evolution as a theory, the sticker also has the effect of undermining evolution education to the benefit of those Cobb County citizens who would prefer that students maintain their religious beliefs regarding the origin of life."

"The distinction of evolution as a theory rather than a fact is the distinction that religiously motivated individuals have specifically asked school boards to make in the most recent anti-evolution movement, and that was exactly what parents in Cobb County did in this case."

The full ruling can be read here if you can open PDF files.

By the way evolution is a theory (macroevolution) and a fact (microevolution).

Monday, January 10, 2005

Wisconsin State Journal: A big bang for creationism

Our Conscience

Though it has been nearly 80 years since a high school biology teacher named John Scopes went on trial in Tennessee for teaching evolution in a public school, the issue remains far from dusty history here in Wisconsin.

A school board headed by a minister in the northwest Wisconsin village of Grantsburg recently created an uproar by ordering staff to teach creationism alongside evolution. The board subsequently revised its policy in November and now asks teachers to take a more critical approach to teaching evolution, pointing out it's just one of several theories and remains in dispute as a science.

Some school districts in southern Wisconsin previously incorporated creationism into lesson plans with considerably less attention. In Belleville and Albany, for example, evolution is taught as one of several theories, while creationism and its spinoffs, including the theory of intelligent design, are mentioned as alternative theories.

Full Article

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Newdow files New Pledge Complaint

Our Conscience

Michael Newdow filed this complaint yesterday with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, which includes parents with full legal custody.

Monday, January 03, 2005

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit: La Crosse, Wisconsin Ten Commandment Land Sale Upheld

Our Conscience

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued an opinion today that upholds La Crosse, Wisconsin's decision to sell a portion of its public park (and the Ten Commandments it sat on) to the Order of Eagles, which had originally donated the monument to the City.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Joplin Globe Editorial Watch: Removing a prayer

Our Conscience

Contrary to what many people believe, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Engel v. Vitale did not remove prayer from public schools. It removed a prayer. This was a prayer prepared by the New York State Board of Regents. As Justice Black noted in the majority opinion of the court, a prayer by any definition constituted a religious activity, and by promoting prayer the state violated the Establishment Clause.
Justice Black delivered the opinion of the court.

“The respondent Board of Education of Union Free School District No. 9, New Hyde Park, New York, acting in its official capacity under state law, directed the School District’s principal to cause the following prayer to be said aloud by each class in the presence of a teacher at the beginning of each school day:”

“Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessing upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.”
This decision did not “remove prayer” from the public schools. It did prohibit government agencies from writing such prayers and from directing their recitation. As a retired teacher from Joplin, I often observed students praying — most often it seemed on days of examinations.

Galen McKinley


Saturday, January 01, 2005

Eufaula Tribune: Justice Moore to Associate Justice, your going to Hell!

Our Conscience

Then Chief Justice Moore, away from Montgomery on a family matter, was furious when he phoned Justice Houston. Houston and the other associate justices had signed an order calling for the removal of Moore's 5,200 pound Ten Commandments monument from the public areas of the court building. The order followed Moore's repeated refusal to comply with a federal court order demanding the monument be moved.

"Our order directed the building manager to remove the monument from the public areas of the Judicial Building as soon as possible so as to comply with the outstanding injunction," Houston writes in "The Monument in the Judicial Building," a paper released to The Tribune recently.

Moore, according to Houston's account, not only berated him for complying with the federal court order. He told him he was going to hell.

"He told me that I was going to be punished," Houston writes. "He said that I did not know what I had done; that I had covered God. I was speechless because of what I was accused of having done."

(Moore later denied making such statements in an interview with The Birmingham News.)

Houston, who became Moore's foil in the dramatic Ten Commandments monument controversy and was even called "Judas" by one out-of-state preacher, said he hasn't talked with Moore since.

Full Article