Religious discord assails US

27th August 1999 at 01:00
UNITED STATES

THE high-profile decision in Kansas that evolution can no longer be taught in state schools has been followed by several other encroachments of religion into education.

Parents in Texas say they will defy a judge's ban on prayers at football games, and volunteers in Kentucky have posted the Ten Commandments in every classroom, in a move likely to be challenged by civil liberty groups.

Many of these acrimonious debates are the culmination of a long-running campaign by religious conservatives.

The conservatives' biggest victory was the decision by the Kansas board of education ordering that evolution no longer be taught. Kansas educators say the move has made their midwestern state an international laughingstock, and the embarrassed governor has proposed abolishing the education board for adopting standards that play down the scientific importance of evolution - particularly the scientific theory that humans descended from apes and other lower species.

The presidents of Kansas's six public universities wrote a letter saying the new standards "will set Kansas back a century and give hard-to-find science teachers no choice but to pursue other career fields outside of Kansas".

The teaching of evolution has provoked debate throughout US history, most notably in the spectacular 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, in which the state of Tennessee put a science instructor, John Thomas Scopes, on trial for knowingly infringing a law banning the teaching of evolution. He was convicted and fined, though the verdict was reversed on a technicality by a higher court.

Religious groups have argued that evolution cannot be proved, and contradicts biblical teachings. There have been other clashes involving religion as the school year opens.

Volunteers in rural eastern Kentucky placed the Ten Commandments in every class room with the support of school officials who said it was "an effort to start having good morals in school ...because of all the violent issues that have been showing up".

In 1980, the US Supreme Court ruled in a Kentucky case that posting the Ten Commandments violated the Constitution's ban on government-established religion. And while the US House of Representatives passed a measure in June allowing the Ten Commandments to be placed in schools and other government buildings, the Bill has yet to be considered by the Senate.

Meanwhile, Texas parents and some administrators said they would defy a judge's ban on pre-game prayers at football games. The federal judge ruled that students can pray at graduations, but not at sporting events, after Mormons and Catholics filed a suit against prayers.

Virginia Collier, president of the Texas Association of School Administrators, said the ban would be difficult to enforce in the Bible Belt state.

"I've talked to about 10 superintendents (chief administrators)," she said. "The majority said they were not going to comply."

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