The Arkansas law requiring a balance between Creationism and evolutionary theory in public school science classes was declared unconstitutional yesterday for violating First Amendment guarantees of separation of church and state.
Stephen Jay Gould, professor of Geology, was a chief witness at the trial. His testimony in U.S. District Court in Little Rock tried to show how fossil records disproved a sudden recent appearance of life, as Fundamentalist groups purport.
Gould said he was pleased with the verdict but expects more action in the courts. The case will probably be appealed and similar laws are on the agendas of many state legislatures, he said, adding, "The Creationists are not going to give up."
The suit, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), challenged the statute for violating academic freedom, lacking scientific merit, and bringing religion into public schools, ACLU lawyers worried that the law's vagueness might have invalidated it for being unsound rather than unconstitutional.
The ruling sets a precedent that should make it easier for other courts to overturn similar laws. "The judge made it perfectly clear that Creationism is pure and simply religion," an ACLU spokesman in Arkansas said yesterday.
The law would have required the teaching of "evidence that indicates creation of the universe, matter and energy, suddenly from nothing," and referred to a world-wide flood.
Set In Stone
In his decision, Judge William Overton ruled, "The application and content of First Amendment principles are not determined by public opinion polls, or by a majority vote. Whether the proposals of [this law] constitute the majority or the minority is quite irrelevant under a constitutional system of government."
"No group no matter how large or small, may use the organs of government of which the public schools are the most conspicuous and influential, to foist its religious beliefs on others," he added.
Robert Fisher, of the Arkansas Attorney General's office, said the state tried to "keep religion out of the trial." It argued that Creationism was scientifically sound as an alternative theory to evolution. However, in his decision, Overton said that the Creationists, instead of reaching conclusions from data, use "the literal wording of Genesis and attempt to find scientific support for it."
Mr. Fisher said that the Attorney General's office was discussing the case with the State Department of Education, and would decide whether or not to appeal the case sometime in the next two weeks.
Louisiana has enacted a similar law requiring the teaching of Creationism in its public schools beginning this fall. The Louisiana ACLU has challenged the statute on the same grounds as in Arkansas. Since Louisiana is in a different court district, Overton's decision will not invalidate its law