On 19 June 1987, the United States Supreme Court (7-2) ruled that a Louisiana law that mandated the teaching of “creation-science” was unconstitutional.
In 1980, Arkansas and Louisiana entertained legislation that portrayed “creation-science” as equivalent to “evolution-science.” Authors based each bill on “a model written at the Institute for Creation Research.”
In the summer of 1981, creationists in Louisiana secured the enactment of a statute authorizing the teaching of “creation-science” … The term creation-science denotes a pseudoscience that … purports to furnish technical validation for prominent episodes in the Bible and hence for various fundamentalist doctrines. It also purports to refute evolutionary views of the universe, of Earth, and of living things.
Teach evolution? Then you must also teach “creation-science.”
In 1981, Donald Aguillard, assistant principal of Acadiana High School in Scott, Louisiana, sued the state of Louisiana over the new law.
The Supreme Court held that the law violated the “Establishment Clause” of the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Writing for the majority, Justice William J. Brennan Jr. “observed that the law served no clear secular purpose and promoted a particular religious belief, thus violating the establishment clause.”
The ruling addressed all elements of a three-pronged test established with Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971):
[Second], the effect of the law was to advance the viewpoint that a “supernatural being created humankind,” a doctrine central to the dogmas of certain religious denominations. Third, the law significantly entangled the interests of church and state by seeking “the symbolic and financial support of government to achieve a religious purpose.”
The Louisiana case was a throwback to the 1925 Scopes trial.
On 21 March 1925, Tennessee Gov. Austin Peay signed the first law in the United States that prohibited teaching evolution.
Tennessee high-school teacher John T. Scopes, 24, agreed to be the test case. On 25 May 1925, a grand jury indicted Scopes for teaching Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and thus violating state law.
After the verdict is read, John Scopes delivers his only statement of the trial, declaring his intent “to oppose this law in any way I can. Any other action would be in violation of my ideal of academic freedom — that is, to teach the truth as guaranteed in our constitution, of personal and religious freedom.”
The fine? $100 ($1,650 in 2022 dollars).
In 1926, Mississippi followed Tennessee and banned the teaching of evolution. In 1928, Arkansas.
On 17 May 1967, Tennessee repealed the law that banned the teaching of evolution in public schools.
Then in 1968, the Supreme Court ruled (9-0) in Epperson v. Arkansas that the state ban on teaching evolution was unconstitutional.
Enter “intelligent design”
“Intelligent design” is “a pseudoscientific set of beliefs” that is the “most recent incarnation of creationism.”
[The movement is] led by a small group of activists based at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (formerly Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture) in Seattle, WA. There are very few credentialed scientists among the group’s leadership, and those who are scientists typically studied in fields unrelated to biology.
Supporters of “intelligent design,” like those of “creation-science,” trace their roots to arguments from the 18th century made by Anglican clergyman William Paley (1743–1805).
Note that these arguments precede Charles Darwin’s second book, The Descent of Man (1871) by as much as a century.
Darwin directly addresses the debate over the origin of mankind, arguing that “man is descended from a hairy, tailed quadruped, probably arboreal in its habits, and an inhabitant of the Old World.”
From Pew in 2005:
While solid majorities believe that evolution should be taught in science classes, roughly two-thirds of Americans favor adding creationism to the school curriculum…
Approximately 40%-50% of the public accepts a biblical creationist account of the origins of life, while comparable numbers accept the idea that humans evolved over time. The wording of survey questions generally makes little systematic difference in this division of opinion.
In 2005, parents in Dover, Pennsylvania objected to a requirement that “intelligent design” be part of school curricula. A judge ruled against the school board, calling it “unconstitutional for a Pennsylvania school district to present intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in high school biology courses.”
By 2013, Pew reported that 6-in-10 Americans believed in evolution. However, concurrently, 1-in-4 adults believed “a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today.”
Republicans are less inclined today than they were in 2009 to say that humans have evolved over time (43% today vs. 54% in 2009), while opinion among both Democrats and independents has remained about the same.
In 2014, 51 percent of American adults polled had “little or no confidence in the science” supporting the Big Bang.
“Contentious religious issues” – whether the teaching of evolution or the banning of abortion – “are gaining importance in the Republican Party.”
The rising influence of religious conservatives in the GOP coincides with a steady decline in the percentage of Americans identifying with either Catholic or Protestant churches. That decline in percentage terms had begun in the latter half of the 20th century but it has accelerated since, according to periodic surveys by the Pew Research Center.