False Facts Syndrome Infects Article on Caldwell Lawsuit
Yesterday, the AP put out a short story on the recent lawsuit filed by California citizens against the National Science Foundation and the University of California at Berkeley for its use of sectarian religious doctrines to promote neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory on a publicly funded website about teaching evolution in public schools. Sadly, this article is diseased: it suffers from inaccuritis and false facts syndrome.
The lawsuit, initiated by Jeanne Caldwell (and blogged about previously, here, and here) challenges the segment of the website that deals specifically with evolution and religion. The site links to certain religious denominations that pronounce neo-Darwinian theory completely compatible with their religious doctrines. But the site does not link to any religious denominations that disagree with that view.
The AP wrongly insinuates that attorney Larry Caldwell is arguing that government funding of a website promoting neo-Darwinian theory is itself unconstitutional. It also falsely insinuates that Caldwell is somehow arguing that teaching neo-Darwinian theory is inherently religious or inherently unconstitutional. In reality, Caldwell's legal arguments are altogether different, and very precise.
Caldwell is not saying that teaching evolutionary theory is itself religious or unconstitutional. It is perfectly constitutional, as Caldwell acknowledges, to teach scientific arguments for (and against) neo-Darwinian theory. The constitutionality of teaching Neo-Darwinism was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1968 case Epperson v. Arkansas.
Rather, Caldwell is simply arguing that when a publicly funded and operated website for use in public schools delves specifically into the issue of religion and advocates one sectarian viewpoint, the government violates constitutionally-mandated religious neutrality. The website chooses one group of explicitly religious doctrines side in a religious debate based upon those organizations' doctrines and advocates for them. First Amendment jurisprudence does not allow this religious endorsement and thus the lawsuit against NSF & UCB is far more interesting than what the AP story leads one to believe.
Thankfully, there is a cure for articles diseased by such inaccuracies. It's called research.