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Citizens Have Right to Present Proposed Evolution Policy at School Board Meetings

Original Article

School Officials Must Answer in Court for Alleged Religious Discrimination

Sacramento, CA – In an important legal victory for citizens seeking to improve how evolution is taught in public schools, a federal judge has ruled that California citizens have a Constitutional right under the First Amendment to put proposed evolution policies on the agenda of local school board meetings for public debate and potential adoption, and that school officials who refuse such a request are subject to potential civil rights remedies in federal court.

Said plaintiff Larry Caldwell, “The court’s ruling is a vindication of the constitutional right of California citizens to initiate public debate in school board meetings on the question of how we should teach evolution to our children.”

Added Caldwell, “This is a crucial educational policy issue that must be addressed if our children are to acquire the critical thinking skills they will need to compete in the Twenty-First Century.”

School officials of the Roseville Joint Union High School District have maintained that they have the right to deny citizens the opportunity to have a proposed education policy placed on a school board agenda. The court ruled that such a policy, if proven, would constitute illegal “viewpoint discrimination” under the Free Speech Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The legal ruling came in a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by parent activist and attorney Larry Caldwell, arising out of his year-long effort to persuade the Roseville Joint Union High School District to adopt his Quality Science Education Policy. The QSE Policy seeks to stimulate the critical thinking skills of students by including both scientific strengths and weaknesses of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution in biology classes.

U.S. District Court Judge Frank C. Damrell, Jr. also ruled that school officials who base their refusal on the actual or perceived religious beliefs or affiliations of the citizen proposing the policy also run afoul of the protections against religious discrimination in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and in the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In papers filed in the lawsuit, attorneys for school officials have admitted that their refusal for eight months to permit Caldwell’s proposed QSE Policy to be debated and voted on at school board meetings was based in part on Caldwell’s Christian religious beliefs.

Said Karen England, Executive Director of Capitol Resource Institute, a California pro-family, public policy group, “We are pleased that the court has recognized the constitutional right of California parents to participate in local school board meetings in a pro-active way. It is unfortunate that it has taken a lawsuit to get the leadership of the Roseville high school district to honor the constitutional rights of Mr. Caldwell and other citizens.”

Pacific Justice Institute, the Sacramento-based public interest organization, is acting as co-counsel with Caldwell in the lawsuit.