Concord administrators failed the community

Concord missed a chance to correct misunderstandings and teach the community about science, creationism and the Constitution.

Posted on March 2, 2014 at 11:23 a.m.

Many devout Christians believe in creationism, the idea that God created the world and everything in it. So do members of other faiths.

That is their right, enshrined by the First Amendment.

But creationism is religion, not science, and Ryan Culp crossed a line when he showed his Concord High School biology students creationist videos from a series called “Lies in the Textbooks.”

Culp crossed a line, but district administrators failed the community; they not only allowed a teacher to violate the Establishment Clause, they refused to defend the ideal of a public school system where religion is studied but not advocated.

They allowed anger and ignorance to fill the vacuum. The question now becomes, how do they undo the damage?

Culp showed his students a series of videos produced by Kent Hovind, founder of Creation Science Evangelism. Hovind is a young Earth creationist, who believes in the Genesis story of creation. He considers evolution nothing but lies — “the foundation for communism, nazism, socialism, Marxism and those who want a one-world government” — and wants his version of creationism taught as a scientific alternative.

Culp clearly considered Hovind’s views a legitimate criticism of evolution. When a parent asked him about the videos, Culp said he could teach creationism as long as it didn’t make up “like half of what the information is.” By offering Hovind’s biblical views on creation, Culp said he hoped to promote “critical thinking.”

Concord Community Schools hired a biology teacher who does not understand the law.

In the early 1980s, Louisiana passed a law requiring that if public schools taught evolution, they must also teach creationism. Supporters claimed they were acting to ensure academic freedom.

But the Fifth District Court of Appeals disagreed; the law’s true purpose, the court found, was promotion of a religious doctrine — “creation science.”

The Supreme Court reached the same conclusion, ruling in Edwards vs. Aguillard (1987) that Louisiana violated the Establishment Clause by “advancing the religious belief that a supernatural being created mankind.”

By showing Hovind’s videos, so did Culp.

A firestorm quickly ignited, inside and outside the school. On social media, believers angrily contended that creationism should be taught at Concord as a valid scientific counterpoint to evolution. Students came to school wearing T-shirts reading, “I support Mr. Culp. Teach both. Let us decide.”

He can’t. No one can, as long as the Establishment Clause prevails.

Concord administrators saw the community turning on itself. They saw the very foundations of a public school system come under attack. They had to.

And they did nothing.

Asked about Culp’s creationist classes, Superintendent Wayne Stubbs issued a meaningless statement.

The district, he wrote in an email, constantly reviews school curricula.

"We will continue to do this as we do in all content areas in all grade levels throughout our district," Stubbs said.

That’s it. The district’s website, www.concord.k12.in.us, offers an adorable photo of Stubbs with a South Side Elementary second-grader holding the Christmas card he designed, a schedule of make-up days for May and June, but nothing about the Culp story.

Concord missed a chance to correct misunderstandings and teach the community about science, creationism and the Constitution. Given the opportunity to reaffirm the value of a public school system free from religious entanglement, administrators chose silence.

They did not serve anyone well. Their silence cannot continue.

Stubbs says administrators constantly review the district’s curricula. That raises at least three questions:

1) How did Culp end up teaching creationism in a Concord High School science classroom?

2) Did Culp’s superiors at Concord approve of the videos?

3) And what will the district do to make sure Concord teachers never again promote religion as science?

We are free to believe what we choose about God and creation. But the First Amendment forbids government advancement of religion — and that prohibits public schools from teaching creationism as science, as the Supreme Court has ruled.

Concord Community Schools must embrace those ideals. Vigorously.

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