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Lawsuit Alleges that Federally-Funded Evolution Website Violates Separation of Church and State by Using Religion to Promote Evolution

San Francisco, CA — A California parent, Jeanne Caldwell, is filing a federal lawsuit today against officials of the National Science Foundation and the University of California at Berkeley for spending more than $500,000 of federal money on a website that encourages teachers to use religion to promote evolution in violation of the First Amendment.

“In this stunning example of hypocrisy, the same people who so loudly proclaim that they oppose discussion of religion in science classes are clamoring for public school teachers to expressly use theology in order to convince students to support evolution,” said Larry Caldwell, President of Quality Science Education for All, who is co-counsel in the suit with the Pacific Justice Institute.

Called “Understanding Evolution,” the website identified in the lawsuit directs teachers to doctrinal statements by seventeen religious denominations and groups endorsing evolutionary theory. A statement by the United Church of Christ, for example, declares that evolution is consistent with “the revelation and presence of… God in Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.”

The website further suggests classroom activities that explicitly use religion to promote evolution. In one suggested activity, teachers are supposed to share with students statements by religious leaders on evolution, but only those “stress[ing] the compatibility of theology with the science of evolution.” In another activity, students are assigned to interview ministers about their views on evolution, with the purpose of showing students that “Evolution is OK!” Teachers are cautioned, however, that this particular activity may not work if they live in a community that is “conservative Christian.”

“While the government has a legitimate purpose in educating students about the science of evolution, it’s outrageous that tax dollars would be spent to indoctrinate students into a particular religious view of evolution. There are many different religious views about evolution. How dare the government tell students which religious view is correct!” said plaintiff Jeanne Caldwell. “This is propaganda, not education.”

The lawsuit alleges that the state and federal government are promoting religious beliefs to minor school children through the website in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The suit seeks injunctive relief to remove these government endorsed religious beliefs from the website.

The lawsuit also alleges that the website is being used to further the religious agenda of a private organization, the National Center for Science Education (NSCE), which has a “long history of religious advocacy” on the evolution issue. According to the suit, the NCSE, which helped design the website, provides religious “outreach” programs and “preaching” on evolution to churches, all aimed at convincing people of faith that there is no conflict between their religious beliefs and evolution.

“It turns out that the NCSE and its allies in the scientific and educational establishments don’t mind having religious beliefs discussed in science class, as long as those discussions are aimed at convincing students to convert to the religious beliefs favored by the NCSE”, added attorney Caldwell. “Their willingness to flagrantly violate students’ constitutionally protected religious freedoms in order to sell evolution to our children is the height of hypocrisy.”