Modern scientific theories of natural and human origins and religious beliefs about the world’s creation.
The emergence of the theory of evolution as a scientific account of human origins has, since the nineteenth century, created conflicts with religious beliefs. Conservative Christians, in particular, have often viewed evolution as inconsistent with biblical teaching concerning creation. They viewed the gradual nature of the evolutionary process as contradicted by the biblical account of creation. They read the Bible as describing a relatively brief creation process in some views, six literal days and one not characterized by a progression from primitive to higher lifeforms.
The debate between science and religion over natural origins inevitably arrived in the public schools. In areas controlled by conservative religious sensibilities, opponents of evolution were able, for a time, to prevent public school teachers from teaching the evolutionary account. As the twentieth century progressed, these prohibitions eventually took the form of law. The most celebrated attempt to enforce such a legal prohibition against teaching evolution was the Scopes trial in Tennessee in the 1920’s. State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes
Several decades would pass before the Court finally considered the constitutionality of laws prohibiting instruction concerning evolution. When it did, in Epperson v. Arkansas
The battle that began as an attempt to keep evolution out of public schools metamorphosed over the next two decades into a rear-guard attempt to return creationism to the schools. In the early 1980’s, for example, the Louisiana legislature passed the Balanced Treatment for CreationScience and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction Act. This law essentially provided that public schools that chose to teach “evolutionscience” also had to teach “creation-science” and was justified by the legislature as necessary to preserve academic freedom. The Supreme Court disagreed, however. By the time the matter arrived before the justices in the last half of the 1980’s, the Court had interpreted the First Amendment’s establishment clause as imposing a three-part requirement on state and federal laws. According to the three-part test adopted in Lemon v. Kurtzman
The Louisiana law was challenged in Edwards v. Aguillard
Conkle, Daniel O. Constitutional Law: The Religion Clauses. New York: Foundation Press, 2003. Ecker, Ronald L. Dictionary of Science and Creationism. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1990. Gilkey, Langdon. Creationism on Trial: Evolution and God at Little Rock. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998. Hall, Kermit L. Conscience and Belief: The Supreme Court and Religion. New York: Garland, 2000. Jurinski, James John. Religion on Trial: A Handbook with Cases, Laws, and Documents. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2003. Larson, Edward J. Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion. New York: Basic Books, 1997. Larson, Edward J. Trial and Error: The American Legal Controversy over Creation and Evolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985. Webb, George Ernest. The Evolution Controversy in America. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1994.
Abington School District v. Schempp
Edwards v. Aguillard
Engel v. Vitale
Epperson v. Arkansas
Lemon v. Kurtzman
Religion, establishment of