ACLU to Hugoton schools: No creationism

4/20/2013

By CELIA LLOPIS-JEPSEN

By CELIA LLOPIS-JEPSEN

The Topeka Capital-Journal

HUGOTON — A civil liberties group says a southwest Kansas school district is planning mandatory student assemblies with a creationist organization next week, something the district called a misunderstanding.

The ACLU Foundation of Kansas & Western Missouri wrote Friday to Mark Crawford, superintendent of Hugoton Unified School District 210, asking him to cancel events scheduled for next week with the Oklahoma-based Creation Truth Foundation.

"It's been clear for at least the last 45 years that teaching creationism or promoting it is a violation of the Constitution," legal director Doug Bonney told The Topeka Capital-Journal. "When you invite a religious organization that is completely dedicated to the teaching of biblical creationism, that's a violation of the First Amendment establishment clause."

But Crawford says the speakers visiting next week will hold nonreligious events during school hours and have rented school space to hold events concerning creationism in the evening.

"I think someone was misinformed," Crawford said, adding that his district doesn't promote or teach creationism and that it would be inappropriate to do so. "We teach Kansas state standards for science."

Crawford said Matt Miles, one of the Creation Truth Foundation's speakers, was from Hugoton. Community members invited the group to Hugoton for evening events and asked whether Miles also could give presentations during the school day. Crawford said the district agreed but secured a written statement from Miles promising that the content of daytime talks would be "school appropriate."

"Matt is from Hugoton," he said. "The people here know and trust him."

"I completely understand the red flags that the ACLU sees in this, but it's a unique situation," he said.

Crawford said school and district staff hadn't promoted the evening events to students.

The district says Miles' talks during the day will be on behalf of the Foundation for the Advancement of Childhood Education.

But the Creation Truth Foundation website shows the daytime talks on its own events calendar online. Miles is listed on the calendar as speaking in Hugoton schools. The calendar lists "school programs" planned for Monday and Tuesday morning and public presentations for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evening. Miles' cospeaker is Creation Truth Foundation founder G. Thomas Sharp, the calendar says.

The Foundation for the Advancement of Childhood Education website lists a similar name, George Sharp, Jr., as its founder.

According to Miles' biography on the Creation Truth Foundation website, he is a missionary and teacher of Biblical origins who has "developed an excellent program in Biblical Astronomy."

The ACLU says the Creation Truth Foundation's events for next week include an assembly on the "Truth about Dinosaurs" that will be mandatory for high school and middle school students and teachers.

But Crawford said the daytime program was titled "Dinosaurs, those terrible lizards."

The Creation Truth Foundation calendar states simply that the topics for next week's assemblies are "pending."

The Capital-Journal is seeking comment from the Creation Truth Foundation. The phone number listed on the Foundation for the Advancement of Childhood Education website wasn't functioning. The number has an Oklahoma area code.

Bonney said USD 210 is the only Kansas district his organization knows of that has invited the groups to speak in its schools.

He also said the ACLU didn't have any information about other districts teaching or promoting creationism.

"I think this happens more than we know about," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised if there are more out there."

The Creation Truth Foundation sells a science curriculum called Truth in Science. The group's website says the lessons combine the Bible and science.

"The Bible, indeed, is not a science textbook," it says, "but when it deals with any scientific issue, it is always correct."

Bonney said his organization was looking into how the events with the Creation Truth Foundation had been scheduled and the relationship between the group and the district.

"We're not going to drop this," he said.

He said everyone has the right to freedom of religion, but that schools can't promote religion to their students and staff.

It would be acceptable to discuss creationism at a nonschool-sponsored event outside of school hours, he said, but questioned the district's statement that next week's daytime and evening events were separate.

"I just can't believe that that's possible," he said. "I'm very dubious about that."

The Foundation for the Advancement of Childhood Education website lists recommendations from four school districts in Texas and Oklahoma indicating it has made presentations there.

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