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The Critic's Resource on AntiEvolution

NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2012/02/24

(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)

Dear Friends of NCSE,

The end of the road for C. F. v. Corbett. A second bill in Oklahoma
attacks evolution and climate change. Documents reveal a conservative
think tank's plans to undermine the teaching of global warming in
public schools -- and the source of the leak steps forward. The two
antievolution bills in New Hampshire are editorially denounced, and
the impetus behind the credit-for-creationism scheme in Alabama is


"The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal Tuesday from a
former high school student who sued his history teacher, saying he
disparaged Christianity in class in violation of the student's First
Amendment rights," the Orange County Register (February 21, 2012)
reported. The case in question is C. F. et al. v. Capistrano Unified
School District et al., which began in 2007.

The case originated when Corbett, a twenty-year veteran history
teacher at Capistrano Valley High School in Mission Viejo, California,
was accused by a student, Chad Farnan, of "repeatedly promoting
hostility toward Christians in class and advocating 'irreligion over
religion' in violation of the First Amendment's establishment clause,"
according to the Orange County Register (May 1, 2009). Farnan cited
more than twenty offending statements of Corbett's in his complaint.

In the district court's decision, however, only one of the statements
was identified as constitutionally impermissible. In 2007, while
describing to his class his involvement in the 1994 case Peloza v.
Capistrano Unified School District -- in which a teacher
unsuccessfully contended that it was unconstitutional for the school
district to require him to teach evolution -- Corbett characterized
creationism as "superstitious nonsense."

The district court wrote, "The Court cannot discern a legitimate
secular purpose in this statement, even when considered in context.
The statement therefore constitutes improper disapproval of religion
in violation of the Establishment Clause." But the district court also
ruled that because there was no clear precedent establishing that
Corbett's comment would have been unconstitutional, Corbett was
entitled to qualified immunity, shielding him from liability.

Both Farnan and Corbett then appealed the decision to the Ninth
Circuit Court of Appeals. In a decision issued on August 19, 2011, the
Ninth Circuit overturned the district court's decision "to the extent
it decided the constitutionality of any of Corbett's statements" while
upholding its grant of qualified immunity to Corbett. Corbett told the
Orange County Register (August 19, 2011) that it "was a victory for
free thought and academic freedom."

Farnan then appealed the Ninth Circuit's decision to the Supreme
Court. With its decision not to hear the appeal, the case is now
definitely over. Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional scholar at the
University of California, Irvine, School of Law who represented
Corbett in the appeal, told the Orange County Register that "Corbett's
victory is a really important victory for teachers ... it could have
opened the door for other teachers to be held liable."

But the Register also quoted Douglas Laycock, a constitutional scholar
at the University of Virginia School of Law, as identifying the case
as "an example of a systemic problem in constitutional litigation":
"They can't hold the teacher liable because the law was not clearly
settled. Because they can't hold him liable, the law will never become
clear on what teachers can say in class."

For the 2/21/2012 story in the Orange County Register, visit: 

For the 5/1/2009 and the 8/19/2011 stories in the Orange County Register, visit: 

For information about Peloza v. Capistrano, visit: 

And for NCSE's collection of documents from C. F. v. Corbett, visit: 


A bill in Oklahoma that would, if enacted, encourage teachers to
present the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of
"controversial" topics such as "biological evolution" and "global
warming" is back from the dead. Entitled the "Scientific Education and
Academic Freedom Act," House Bill 1551 was introduced in the Oklahoma
House of Representatives in 2011 by Sally Kern (R-District 84), a
persistent sponsor of antievolution legislation in the Sooner State,
and referred to the House Common Education Committee. It was rejected
there on February 22, 2011, on a 7-9 vote. But, as The Oklahoman
(February 23, 2011) reported, the vote was not final, since a sponsor
"could ask the committee to bring it up again this session or next
year." And indeed, on February 20, 2012, Gus Blackwell (R-District 61)
resurrected the bill in the House Common Education Committee.

The only significant difference is that where the original version
specified, "The Legislature further finds that the teaching of some
scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical
origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause
controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations
concerning how they should present information on such subjects," the
new version specifies, "the Legislature further finds that the
teaching of some scientific concepts including but not limited to
premises in the areas of biology, chemistry, meteorology, bioethics
and physics can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be
unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present
information on some subjects such as, but not limited to, biological
evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human

On February 21, 2012, just a day after HB 1551 was resurrected, the
House Common Education Committee voted 9-7 to accept it, hearing no
testimony from the public. One amendment, providing, "Nothing in this
subsection shall be construed to exempt students from learning,
understanding, and being tested on curriculum as prescribed by state
and local education standards," was accepted; while that language was
not present in the original version of HB 1551, it was added by
amendment by the House Common Education Committee in 2011 before the
bill was rejected, suggesting that Blackwell was working from the
original rather than the amended version of Kern's bill. The bill will
now presumably proceed to the House of Representatives for a floor
vote; it will have to be accepted by the House by March 15, 2012, in
order to proceed to the Senate.

In its current incarnation, HB 1551 differs only slightly from
Oklahoma's Senate Bill 320 from 2009, which a member of the Senate
Education Committee described to the Tulsa World (February 17, 2009)
as one of the worst bills that he had ever seen. In its critique (PDF)
of SB 320, Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education argued,
"Promoting the notion that there is some scientific controversy is
just plain dishonest ... Evolution as a process is supported by an
enormous and continually growing body of evidence. Evolutionary theory
has advanced substantially since Darwin's time and, despite 150 years
of direct research, no evidence in conflict with evolution has ever
been found." With respect to the supposed "weaknesses" of evolution,
OESE added, "they are phony fabrications, invented and promoted by
people who don't like evolution."

For information about Oklahoma's House Bill 1551, visit: 

For the stories from The Oklahoman and the Tulsa World, visit: 

For Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education's critique of
Senate Bill 320 (PDF), visit: 

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Oklahoma, visit: 


"Leaked documents suggest that an organization known for attacking
climate science is planning a new push to undermine the teaching of
global warming in public schools, the latest indication that climate
change is becoming a part of the nation?s culture wars," reported The
New York Times (February 15, 2012). The documents in question were
obtained from the Heartland Institute, a non-profit organization best
known for its attacks on climate science, and posted at DeSmogBlog
(February 14, 2012), which "exists to clear the PR pollution that is
clouding the science on climate change."

The documents detailed a plan to invest at least $100,000 to produce
and distribute curriculum material propounding climate change denial.
"Many people lament the absence of educational material suitable for
K-12 students on global warming that isn?t alarmist or overtly
political. Heartland has tried to make material available to teachers,
but has had only limited success." The proposed remedy was to produce
"modules" on climate change with such claims as "whether CO2 is a
pollutant is controversial" and "whether humans are changing the
climate is a major scientific controversy."

"It is in fact not a scientific controversy," the Times explained with
regard to the latter claim. "The vast majority of climate scientists
[97-98%, according to Anderegg et al., "Expert credibility in climate
change," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 2010)]
say that emissions generated by humans are changing the climate and
putting the planet at long-term risk, although they are uncertain
about the exact magnitude of that risk. Whether and how to rein in
emissions of greenhouse gases has become a major political controversy
in the United States, however."

The Heartland Institute explicitly denied the authenticity of one of
the documents, which included a startling description of the proposed
curriculum as showing "that the topic of climate change is
controversial and uncertain -- two key points that are effective at
dissuading teachers from teaching science." The author of the
curriculum confirmed to the Associated Press (February 18, 2012) that
the description of his curriculum throughout the documents was
otherwise accurate, however, explaining that his goal for schools was
"teaching both sides of the science, more science, not less."

The article in the Times observed, "The National Center for Science
Education, a group that has had notable success in fighting for
accurate teaching of evolution in the public schools, has recently
added climate change to its agenda in response to pleas from teachers
who say they feel pressure to water down the science," and quoted Mark
McCaffrey, who is spearheading NCSE's climate initiative, as saying
that the Heartland documents show that climate change deniers
?continue to promote confusion, doubt and debate where there really is

The Los Angeles Times (February 20, 2012) offered its editorial
opinion: "On one side of the 'controversy' are credentialed
climatologists around the globe who publish in reputable,
peer-reviewed scientific journals and agree that the planet is warming
and that humans are to blame; on the other are
fossil-fuel-industry-funded 'experts' who tend to have little
background in climatology and who publish non-peer-reviewed papers in
junk magazines disputing established truths. ... It's bad enough that
we're gambling our children's futures by doing so little to fight this
problem; let's not ask their teachers to lie to them about it too."

For the article in The New York Times, visit: 

For the post at DeSmogBlog, visit: 

For Anderegg et al. (2010), visit: 

For the Associated Press story (via Education Week), visit: 

For the editorial in the Los Angeles Times, visit:,0,3564279.story 


The source of the documents revealing the strategy of the Heartland
Institute's campaign to undermine the public's understanding of
climate science -- including by producing and distributing K-12
curriculum materials propounding climate change denial -- revealed
himself to be Dr. Peter Gleick, the hydroclimatologist who heads the
Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and

In a February 20, 2012, statement posted at the Huffington Post,
Gleick explained that at the beginning of the year, he received a
document "describing what appeared to be details of the Heartland
Institute's climate program strategy." Attempting to confirm the
accuracy of the information, he continued, "I solicited and received
additional materials directly from the Heartland Institute under
someone else's name."

Gleick expressed regret for his actions, writing, "My judgment was
blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts -- often anonymous,
well-funded, and coordinated -- to attack climate science and
scientists and prevent this debate, and by the lack of transparency of
the organizations involved. Nevertheless I deeply regret my own
actions in this case. I offer my personal apologies to all those

As part of NCSE's expansion to defend the teaching of climate science,
Gleick had agreed to join NCSE's board of directors. On the same day
as he posted his statement, however, he apologized to NCSE for his
behavior with regard to the Heartland Institute documents and offered
to withdraw from the board, on which he was scheduled to begin serving
as of February 25, 2012. His offer was accepted.

"Gleick obtained and disseminated these documents without the
knowledge of anyone here," NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott
commented, "and we do not condone his doing so." But, she added, "they
show that NCSE was right to broaden its scope to include the teaching
of climate science. There really are coordinated attempts to undermine
the teaching of climate science, and NCSE is needed to help to thwart

For Gleick's statement at the Huffington Post, visit: 


The two antievolution bills in New Hampshire's House of
Representatives were editorially denounced by the Concord Monitor
(February 20, 2012), which wrote, "The House should spare the state
further embarrassment and kill both bills." Both bills were dismissed
by the House Education Committee on February 16, 2012, but
nevertheless proceed to a floor vote in the House on February 22,
2012. According to a primer on legislative process posted on the state
legislature's website, "It is rare for the full Senate or House to
overturn a Committee's decision."

With regard to House Bill 1148, which would have charged the state
board of education to "[r]equire evolution to be taught in the public
schools of this state as a theory, including the theorists' political
and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of
atheism," the Monitor commented, "But we fear that [the bill's sponsor
Jerry] Bergevin is not referring to Darwin with his use of the words
'the theorist' in his bill but to today's science teachers. If so, it
is a McCarthy-esque proposition that's odious on multiple levels."

With regard to House Bill 1457, which would have charged the state
board of education to "[r]equire science teachers to instruct pupils
that proper scientific inquire [sic] results from not committing to
any one theory or hypothesis," the Monitor commented that its
description of science, insofar as it was accurate, "is the opposite
of efforts to espouse positions like the creationist theories of
life's origin promoted by ... a representative from the Discovery
Institute who came to New Hampshire from the state of Washington to
testify in favor of the bills."

For the editorial in the Concord Monitor, visit: 

For the primer on legislative process, visit: 

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in New Hampshire, visit: 


Alabama's House Bill 133 -- which would, if enacted, "authorize local
boards of education to include released time religious instruction as
an elective course for high school students" -- was introduced at the
behest of a former teacher who was "fired in 1980 for reading the
Bible and teaching creationism at Spring Garden Elementary School when
parents of the public school sixth-grade students objected and he
refused to stop," the Birmingham News (February 17, 2012) reports. Now
84, Joseph Kennedy "still has a dream of teaching public school
students about creationism," and he and his supporters are poised to
offer a course on creationism if the bill passes.

The sponsor of HB 133, Blaine Galliher (R-District 30), told the News
that he introduced the bill -- which he described elsewhere as a
"vehicle" for creationism -- at Kennedy's request. Describing his
plans to the newspaper, Kennedy explained, "All the school board needs
to do is set it up. They can give the students credit. We're going to
major on creation science. Since creation involved science, then
certainly we can study it. We want to give students good sound
scientific reasons to support their faith in the seven-day creation
and the young Earth," adding, "The textbook will be 'The Defender
Study Bible,' with notes by Henry Morris, author of 'The Genesis
Flood,' who started the creationist movement."

Mary Sue McClurkin (R-District 43), who chairs the House Education
Policy Committee, told the News that the bill would be debated in
committee during the week of February 28, 2012, commenting, "It looks
like it's a very viable way to offer some elective courses for kids
that have many opportunities for electives." But Thomas Berg, a
professor of law formerly at Samford University in Birmingham,
expressed doubt about the bill's constitutionality, asking, "Is the
religious teacher going to certify that the student passed? Would the
school do any review of that? Would they monitor the class for quality
to ensure it would warrant a public school credit? All those things
would entangle the school."

For the article in the Birmingham News, visit: 

And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Alabama, visit: 

Thanks for reading. And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- -- where you can always find the latest news on 
evolution and climate education and threats to them.


Glenn Branch
Deputy Director
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
420 40th Street, Suite 2
Oakland, CA 94609-2509
510-601-7203 x305
fax: 510-601-7204

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