02 March 2011


EVOLUTION IN SCHOOLS. Some topics, like a bad penny, refuse to go away. The rightwing advocates of creationism, more recently cloaked under the nom-de-guerre intelligent design, have been fighting a losing battle for over thirty years -- both in the courts and in the arena of public opinion. Yet they persist in trying to push their nonscientific beliefs down the throats of public school students, in an effort to supplant the teaching of evolution. One is a religious belief. One is science. Only the latter belongs in a biology class, in a nation founded upon the separation of church and state.

In the most recent court battle, reported in the NYTimes, "a new requirement in a Pennsylvania public school district mandated that all 9th-grade biology students listen to a statement questioning the validity of evolutionary theory and promoting intelligent design. Eleven parents of students in the Dover Elementary School District sued the local school board in protest. Four months later a Republican judge in a Pennsylvania federal court ruled in favor of the parents, issuing an eloquent defense of evolutionary theory -- and a scathing rebuke to those who support intelligent design (ID) as a scientific alternative.

"Judge John E. Jones III wrote .... that ID is not only unscientific but also a front used by those on the school board with a religiously motivated, pro-creationist agenda. 'ID's backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny, which we have now determined that it cannot withstand, by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the ID movement is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID." [Emphasis mine.]

The judge's ruling is consistent with the rulings of judges in other jurisdictions around the country. Science rules, superstition drools.

MILITARY FUNERALS. In a rather surprising ruling from this conservative U.S. Supreme Court, the justices found that "The First Amendment protects hateful protests at military funerals, in an 8-1 ruling. 'Speech is powerful,' Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., wrote for the majority. 'It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and -- as it did here -- inflict great pain.'

"But under the First Amendment, he went on, 'we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.' Instead, the national commitment to free speech requires protection for 'even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.'

"The case arose from a protest at the funeral of a Marine who had died in Iraq, Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder. As they had at hundreds of other funerals, members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, appeared with signs bearing messages like 'America is Doomed' and 'God Hates Fags'. The church contends that God is punishing the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality."

How interesting that in both topics in this post, it is religious zealots who are responsible for perpetuating ignorance (in schools) and for imposing unimaginable pain to the families and loved ones of military veterans (at funerals). Thankfully not all religious people are as intolerant, bigoted, and downright hateful as those active in the controversies reported here. As offensive as I personally find their behavior (see image below -- can you imagine such a protest at the funeral of someone you love?), it does remain true that the First Amendment protects their right to self-expression, up to a point.

It strikes me that the protestors in question are in a very gray area. On the one hand, even Nazis, white supremacists, and creationists have the right to express their views, so long as their demonstrations are peaceful and legal. But how "peaceful" is it when someone tells you that your son deserved to die? Does that not cause violent emotional pain? I always have, and always will, support the provisions of our Constitution. Yet I also know that if I were a family member, I would be strongly tempted to wade into those same protestors with a club, expressing myself emphatically. I would be in the wrong to do so. So what does it say about the protestors' civility and common decency that they would inflict such pain on the innocent?

For another view, here is a blogger even more critical of the protestors' sadistic methods.

A FINAL NOTE. Speaking of military funerals, the end of an era occurred on Sunday when Frank W. Buckles died at the age of 110, "having achieved a singular feat of longevity that left him proud and bemused. In 1917 and 1918, close to 5 million Americans served in World War I, and Mr. Buckles, a cordial fellow of gentle humor, was the last known survivor." The ranks of veterans of World War II and the Korean War are thinning daily, and Vietnam vets are starting to join the fallen. The passing of Mr. Buckles calls for a moment of respectful silence.

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