"Monkey trial" ruling pleases creationists

"Evolutionists have been given notice that their monopoly in the classroom is running out," says Kelly Segraves, plaintiff in the recently concluded challenge to the California school system.

Leo Van Dolson is an associate editor of the Adventist Review and a contributing editor of MINISTRY.

Press reports that California Superior Court Judge Irving Perluss ruled against the creationists in the recent case challenging the teaching of evolution as dogma in the State's public schools are misleading. Actually Kelly Segraves, director of the Creation Science Research Center in San Diego, who instituted the suit in behalf of his three children, indicated after the trial that he gained what he wanted to out of the suit.

"I think you'll find a very effective change taking place that will stop the dogmatic teaching of evolution and will protect the rights of the Christian child," he added. Mr. Segraves cited Judge Perluss' concession that the State's policy forbid ding dogmatism in the treatment of the origins of life had not been communicated effectively to all who should know of it.The judge ordered the State Board of Education to distribute its 1973 policy statement prohibiting dogmatism in teaching evolution to all the schools and districts in the State.

Richard Turner, Mr. Segraves' attorney, who presented the case against the State, made this point clear in a recent letter he wrote me, stating: "Despite some misleading reports in the press, the Court did rule in our favor and has required the State to eliminate dogmatism from the teaching of evolution."

Nancy L. Stake, director of California-based Citizens for Scientific Creation, declares: "No matter what you may have heard—WE WON! The judge, whom we have renamed Solomon, made a genius decision, patting the back of both sides, while giving us what we wanted with far-reaching implications."

It is these far-reaching implications that the press at large seems to have missed. Kelly Segraves told me during a personal interview that, as a consequence of the trial, "evolutionists have been given notice that their monopoly in the class room is running out."

On top of this the Segraveses seemed pleased over the national and international newspaper and television coverage being given to the case. For 20 years they had attempted to call public attention to the monopoly evolution has had in public classrooms in the United States without receiving much public notice. During the trial, which ran from March 2 through 6, their case received worldwide attention and publicity.

Confusion about the verdict resulted from the fact that before ordering the California public educational system to circulate its policy statement to all who needed to be aware of it, Judge Perluss ruled that the policy, adopted in 1973, did not violate the religious freedoms of Christians who believe the Biblical account of Creation. It just was not being circulated.

Billed in advance by much of the press as a repeat "monkey trial" because of its similarity to the Scopes trial in Tennessee in 1925, in which a public school teacher was fined for violating a State law against teaching evolution in his science class room, the trial was narrowed by Attorney Turner on the morning of March 3 to the question of whether the three Segraves children had had their First Amendment rights violated by the dogmatic way evolution had been presented to them in their public school classes.

Judge Perluss ruled that the case would not deal with the question of whether Creation is a valid scientific approach to the origins of life but would center on a sentence on page 84 of the scientific framework adopted by the State Board of Education. The sentence reads: "The process (evolution) has been going on so long that it has produced all the groups and kinds of plants and animals now living as well as others that have become extinct."

In our interview with Mr. Segraves, we learned that he objects to this statement because it presents evolution as a fact. When he was in the sixth grade, Kasey Segraves, who was then 11, was given the choice of either helping to produce a chart to be placed on the wall of the school that would trace evolutionary development or of role-playing how apes evolve into men. The sixth-grade child did not want to be embarrassed in front of his classmates, nor did he wish for his grade to be affected, so he decided to cooperate. Picking the lesser of what he considered to be two evils, he helped draw the chart. The Segraveses considered this assignment to be a violation of his First Amendment rights. Along with this they took exception to elementary school textbooks portraying evolution as a fact.

Mr. Segraves told me that in 1970 a scientific framework had been drawn up by the State Board of Education which included statements that teachers in the State should be neutral in their classrooms in regard to the questions of origins. This framework was applied to some extent in textbooks produced in 1973, 1975, and 1977. But in 1978 a new framework was drawn up that dropped the emphasis on being neutral toward origins. Because there will be major science textbook adoptions in California in 1982 and 1984, the Segraveses were concerned that if the present guidelines stand, the former position of neutrality would not be reflected in any way in the new textbooks.

Believing that the case involved a demand that the Biblical account of Creation be taught in public schools, the attorney general's office defending the case planned to bring in an array of scientists and educators such as Carl Sagan and Nobel laureate biochemist Arthur Kornberg, who were prepared to testify that religious considerations pertaining to the origin, meaning, and value of life are not within the realm of science because they cannot be analyzed or measured by present methods of science. However, on Tuesday morning Segraves' attorney, recognizing that the judge could not interfere with the content of the State's textbooks, made it clear that the plaintiffs did not want to put science and religion on trial. To the disappointment of those who had built up the case as a new Scopes "monkey trial," the case was narrowed to the consideration of the question of whether the language of the Board of Education's guidelines is offensive to Christian children and thus a violation of their right to the free exercise of religion.

The only defense left for the State was to maintain that the Board of Education's regulations and policies already make it mandatory on the teachers not to present evolution as a dogmatic fact in the classroom. Testifying for the defense, Marian Drinker, a member of the State education board, held that the board had already adopted a policy of teaching evolution as a theory rather than as dogma.

The eight-year-old policy, not to be confused with the "scientific framework" the plaintiffs were attacking, was developed under Max Rafferty, a conservative who was State superintendent of public instruction. The policy states:

"1. That dogmatism be changed to conditional statements where speculation is offered for origins.

"2. That science emphasize the 'how' and not the ultimate cause for origins." Segraves' lawyer, Richard Turner, in his closing argument on Friday, derided the 1973 dogmatism as a "phantom policy." He contended that there is no evidence that it had ever been used in selecting textbooks.

The Segraveses have been prominent in the creationist movement since the early 1960s, when Kelly Segraves' mother, Nell, first challenged the teachings of evolution in the public schools. In 1970 the Segraveses founded a nonprofit, nondenominational organization in San Diego, the Creation Science Research Center.

Nell, Kelly, his wife, Polly, and their son Kasey were in the courtroom through out the trial. Kasey, who is now 13 and in the eighth grade, took the stand Tuesday, testifying that although he believed that God created people and put them on earth, his sixth-grade teacher insisted that humans evolved through the evolutionary process for millions of years and that evolution was scientifically true. His father testified that he had found evolution taught dogmatically in the textbooks Kasey had used from the fifth or sixth grade onward. Their testimony conflicted sharply with that of defense witnesses, who tried to establish the point that evolution per se is not taught in the State's elementary schools.

Attorney Claude Morgan, an observer at the trial, explained to us that he had a question in his mind as to whether the scientists testifying in behalf of the defense define evolution in a way that excludes the evolutionary materials that the Segraveses pointed to in the science textbooks from the category of evolution. "In other words," he added, "they might say that this is not teaching evolution—just biology or something else."

Throughout the trial Judge Perluss took the position that even if the State could prove that the theory of evolution is true, doing so was not the point of the trial. "We still have a First Amendment that guarantees free exercise of religion," he said. "There are people, no matter how many scientists say otherwise, that go home, open the Bible to Genesis, and say, This is the truth.'"

Educators who testified for the defense Thursday admitted that students some times became upset after being introduced to evolutionary theory. They took the position that they were aware of and sympathetic to the rights of the Creation-oriented children and were already taking steps to meet their point of view by insisting that evolution not be taught in a dogmatic way. In talking with Nell Segraves after the Thursday morning session, we found her euphoric, telling us, "We really got them this morning. They made our point for us."

Later that afternoon Kelly Segraves told us that the more the State's witnesses were saying, the more they seemed to be conceding that scientific Creation could be taught in the schools as an alternate point of view.

At the exclusive breakfast interview he gave us on Friday morning, Kelly Segraves told us more about the Creation Science Research Center. The center is in touch with at least 750 Creation-oriented scientists who support its viewpoint. He explained that one of the reasons their attorney, Richard Turner, had narrowed the scope of the trial was that their funds were limited and they could not afford a long and extensive trial. Mr. Turner also felt that by taking the narrower position there was more likelihood that they would get what they wanted out of the case, a prediction that in the end proved to be true.

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Leo Van Dolson is an associate editor of the Adventist Review and a contributing editor of MINISTRY.

May 1981

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