PBS Encouraging Teachers to Violate the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, Discovery Institute Reports

Staff
Discovery Institute
November 14, 2007
Print ArticleNOVA Teachers Guide on Intelligent Design Injects Religion Into the Classroom

Seattle – A “Briefing Packet for Educators” just issued by PBS in conjunction with the NOVA program Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial inserts religion into the classroom and encourages teaching practices that are likely unconstitutional, says Discovery Institute.

“The NOVA/PBS teaching guide encourages the injection of religion into classroom teaching about evolution in a way that likely would violate current Supreme Court precedents about the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause,” says Dr. John West, vice president for public policy and legal affairs with Discovery Institute.

Discovery Institute published its own guide, The Theory of Intelligent Design: A briefing packet for educators to help them understand the debate between Darwinian evolution and intelligent design.
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    The PBS teaching guide is a companion piece to the NOVA docudrama about the 2005 Dover intelligent design trial and claims to provide for teachers “easily digestible information to guide and support you in facing challenges to evolution.” The guide instructs teachers to introduce religion into science classes with discussion questions like “Can you accept evolution and still
    believe in religion? A: Yes. The common view that evolution is inherently antireligious
    is simply false.”

    “This statement oversimplifies the issue and encourages teachers to prefer certain religious viewpoints in the classroom, betraying Supreme Court law concerning religious neutrality,” says attorney Casey Luskin, program officer for public policy and legal affairs at Discovery Institute.

    “The Supreme Court ruled in Epperson v. Arkansas that the government must maintain ‘neutrality between religion and religion’," says Randal Wenger, a Pennsylvania attorney who filed amicus briefs in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. "Because the Briefing Packet only promotes religious viewpoints that are friendly towards evolution, this is not neutral, and PBS is encouraging teachers to violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.”

    Discovery Institute has enlisted over a dozen attorneys and legal scholars, including Wenger, to review the PBS teaching guide with an eye to its constitutionality.

    “The PBS materials, in suggesting that students need not be concerned that evolution violates their religion, ironically equip public school teachers to violate our current conception of the First Amendment by explicitly teaching students concerning matters of religious belief," added Wenger. "The irony is that discussing intelligent design would not teach any student about any religious belief—the PBS materials, on the other hand, will.”

    The PBS teaching guide also presents false information about the theory of intelligent design.

    “The teaching also guide is riddled with factual errors that misrepresent both the standard definition of intelligent design and the beliefs of those scientists and scholars who support the theory,” adds Luskin.

    “PBS gives a false definition of intelligent design that is a complete straw man argument,” explains Luskin. “Scientists who support intelligent design seek evidence of design in nature, and argue that such evidence points to intelligent design, based on our historical knowledge of cause and effect. So, intelligent design theory is not an argument based on what we don’t know, but rather an argument about what we do know.”