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Anti-Evolution and the Law

As with other controversies, there is significant interaction between Anti-Evolution and the law. Legislation, court cases, and political action are all part and parcel of this social and cultural component to anti-evolutionary action.


Anti-Evolution Legislation

The USA has had a long and complex history of anti-evolution measures proposed and sometimes passed at the state level. The following list gives information on items in reverse chronological order. The status is given as BILL or LAW and color-coded as either green (for a bill under consideration or a law in force) or red (for a defeated bill or a law which has been vetoed, repealed, or struck down by the courts).

2001, US Senate, SB1, AMENDMENT

This amendment was drafted by Discovery Institute Advisor Phillip E. Johnson for Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. Santorum offered it as an amendment to Senate Bill 1, which is known as the "No Child Left Behind" bill. It was removed from the bill in the conference committee, and thus is not part of the law, but the language was put into the conference report. The important point to remember is that the amendment was specifically considered and rejected.

Further information:

2001, Louisiana, House Bill 1286, BILL

This bill directs that the state shall not print or distribute any material containing claims known to be false or fraudulent. It also specifically provides for any citizen to be able to sue the state using the provisions of this bill.

Text of LA HB1286

[Personal note -- Does the state of Louisiana ever print either a transcript of their legislative sessions or Environmental Impact Statements for government projects? I wonder how they expect to do either without being hit by multiple civil suits per document... -- WRE]

2001, Michigan, House Bill 4382, BILL

A bill proposed by Rep. Gosselin (House Bill 4382) seeks to amend 1976 PA 451, "The revised school code". The bill directs that all references to "evolution" or "how species change through time" should have additional words added that students should be informed that evolution is an unproven theory and that students should explain the "competing theories" of evolution and "THE THEORY THAT LIFE IS THE RESULT OF THE PURPOSEFUL, INTELLIGENT DESIGN OF A CREATOR."

Text of HB4382

Further information is available at this page.

2001, Washington, Senate Bill 6058, BILL

The Washington State Senate considers a bill to require the same "disclaimer" that Alabama required for their textbooks.

Text of SB5068

Web page critical of SB6058

2001, Georgia, House Bill 391, BILL

This bill directs teachers to distinguish between "philosophical materialism" and "authentic science", and extends to teachers the "right" to present and critique any scientific theory of the origins or life or species. Not expected to be considered in 2001.

Text of HB391

2001, West Virginia, House Bill 2554, BILL

An "equal-time" style anti-evolution bill.

Text of HB2554

2001, Arkansas, House Bill 2548, BILL

A bill proposed by Rep. Jim Holt of Arkansas would make it illegal for public funds to be used to purchase materials containing known false or fraudulent claims. A list of putative false or fraudulent items was included in the text of the bill. These items were apparently produced by Holt going over the anti-evolutionary literature in a series of short skips and hops. Certain items in the text of the bill were exact quotes of the Jack Chick cartoon tract, "Big Daddy?" Holt enlisted the assistance of Kent Hovind, who testified before the Arkansas State House as an "expert". Holt also claimed to have been influenced by Jonathan Wells' book, "Icons of Evolution". A critique of HB2548 documents likely anti-evolutionary sources for much of the text of the bill, points out conceptual and factual problems, and provides links to further information.

HB2548 failed in a House vote on 2001/03/23, with 45 yes votes, 36 no votes, and the rest either absent or not voting. 51 votes were required for passage.

A vote to expunge the earlier failing vote occurred on 2001/04/03. 67 yes votes were needed to expunge the vote; 62 yes votes were cast, 22 no votes, and the remainder were absent or not voting.

It seems likely that Holt will re-introduce HB2548 or similar legislation at his next next opportunity.

2001, Montana, House Bill 588, BILL

House Bill 588 by Rep. Joe Balyeat, R-Bozeman, was presented as an "objectivity in science education" measure, and would have directed the approval of evolution and creationism materials by an appointed six-member committee. Failed in committee, 14-4 vote, 2001/02/20.

1981, Louisiana, "Equal-Time" Legislation, LAW


1981, Arkansas, Act 590 "Equal-Time" legislation, LAW

Wendell Bird, a graduate of Yale Law School, penned a draft resolution for the Institute for Creation Research. The ICR printed and distributed thousands of copies, with the advice that the resolution was intended to be used at the level of local school boards. Paul Ellwanger modified this draft resolution and distributed it, but with the intent of having it passed as law by states. Although Ellwanger's draft bill was proposed in many states, it only passed in one: Arkansas. There, it followed a path from Ellwanger to a minister, A.A. Blount, to an Arkansas state legisltor, James L. Holsted. Introduced late in the legislative session, Act 590 was quickly moved through the Senate and then the House with little discussion. Act 590 was signed into law by Governor Frank White about a week after its introduction in the Senate ([TAE]).

1976, Kentucky, LAW

Kentucky passed, as a non-controversial law, legislation that allowed teachers to instruct students already believing in biblical creation the tenets of biblical creationism, and allowed such students to earn credit for correctly learning the material ([TAE]).

1973, Tennessee, Senate Bill, LAW

This bill mandated both the labelling of evolution as "a theory" and the devotion of equal space in textbooks to "other theories", explicitly citing the Genesis account of creation as one of these. The bill, with a number of amendments, became law without the governor's signature ([TAE]).

1928, Arkansas, LAW

Arkansas voters approved the anti-evolutionary Initiative Act 1 on the November ballot ([TAE]).

1926, Mississippi, LAW

Mississippi was the first state to adopt an anti-evolutionary law following the Scopes Trial ([TAE]).

1925, Tennessee, The Butler Act, LAW

This law outlawed the teaching of evolution as the descent of man from lower animals. As the most famous example of early anti-evolution legislation, it also provides us with information about what really bothered the anti-evolutionists: the teaching of the continuity of descent of man from non-human primates. This is the real issue that all later legislation would like to address, but does so only obliquely.

The Butler Act was the statute under which John T. Scopes of Dayton, Tennessee was charged, leading to the famous Scopes Monkey Trial.

The Butler Act was upheld on the legal issues raised in Scopes' appeal, but the court reversed Scopes' conviction on the technical issue (not raised by the defense) that the fine had been set by the judge and not the jury. The appeals court further requested dismissal of the case by the prosecution, which complied. With no grounds to move the case to a higher court, the Butler Act remained the law of Tennessee until 1968.

1923, Tennessee, BILLS

Anti-evolutionary bills were introduced in both the house and senate, but neither passed ([TAE]).

1923, Florida, LAW

An anti-evolution resolution based upon William Jennings Bryan's views was adopted as law on May 25th, 1923. This marked the second anti-evolution law enacted within the USA ([TAE]).

1923, Oklahoma, LAW

An anti-evolution amendment attached to a free textbook bill passed, marking the first enacted anti-evolution legislation in the USA ([TAE]). The free textbook law and its anti-evolutionary sucker were repealed shortly after 1925.

1922, Kentucky, BILL

An anti-evolution bill was introduced by Rep. George W. Ellis. Ref: [TAE], which notes that 45 more anti-evolution measures were introduced in the next ten years acroos the USA.

Anti-Evolution Court Cases

Where there are laws, there are court cases. Some of these have been notorious, and others more low-profile.

1981, Arkansas, McLean v. Arkansas

A test of the "equal-time" legislation passed by the legislature of Arkansas in 1981, this court trial featured a long list of plaintiffs, including ministers, rabbis, bishops, and theologians, who opposed the attempt to have a narrow sectarian anti-evolution account taught as science. A variety of experts testified on the issues, and the "equal-time" legislation was struck down by the trial judge, William R. Overton, in a much-admired decision. The McLean v. Arkansas Trial Documentation Project has taken up the challenge of preserving the actual trial records from this historic case.

1981, California, Segraves v. California

Kelly Segraves challenged the teaching of evolution in schools on the grounds that it infringed upon religious freedom, in that he asserted the teaching of evolution as fact meant that children were told with the authority of the state that their parents' beliefs were wrong. The court ordered that the California State Board of Education must disseminate its 1972 "anti-dogmatism" policy to educators ([TAE]).

1977, Indiana, Hendren v. Campbell

The ACLU, on behalf of Jon Hendren, sued the West Clark school board for solely adopting a creationist textbook. The trial court found for the plaintiff, finding the textbook to be sectarian in content and entangling the state with religion ([TAE]).

1974-75, Tennessee, Steele v. Tennessee and Daniel v. Tennessee

These two suits separately questioned the constitutionality of the "equal space" anti-evolution statute passed in 1973. A federal court of appeals for the Daniel case ruled the measure unconstitutional on Establishment Clause violations (explicit mention of "Genesis" and prohibition of "satanic" theories in the text). The Tennessee Supreme Court cited the Daniel decision in finding for the plaintiff in Steele ([TAE]).

1974, Washington, D.C., Willoughby v. National Science Foundation and Crowley v. Smithsonian Institution

These suits challenged the constitutionality of federal support for evolutionry education, in preparing the BSCS textbooks in Willoughby, and in preparing exhibits in Crowley. Both cases were dismissed, and in both cases the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal.

The courts in these cases deferred to scientific opinion on the facts. Successful anti-evolutionary challenges would have to dispute the status of evolution and promulgate as scientific their own alternative view ([TAE]).

1970-72, Texas, Wright v. ?

Referred to by Larson simply as the "Wright case", the mother of Rita Wright brought suit to contest the constitutionality of teaching evolution as a fact without giving time to alternative explanations ([TAE]).

Wright's case was dismissed on procedural grounds. Various appeals affirmed the original decision to dismiss, and the US Supreme Court eventually (1974) refused to hear an appeal of the lower court's ruling.

1969-70, Mississippi, Smith v. Mississippi

The Mississippi Supreme Court cited Epperson v. Arkansas as its basis for striking down the Mississippi anti-evolution law ([TAE]).

1967-68, Arkansas

The Arkansas Supreme Court overturned the decision in Epperson v. Arkansas, reinstating the Arkansas anti-evolution law as a valid exercise of state power.

In 1968, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear Epperson's appeal of the Arkansas Supreme Court ruling. The state's defense was weak, due to a change in Arkansas politics between 1965 and 1968. The US Supreme Court overturned the Arkansas Supreme Court ruling and held the Arkansas anti-evolution law unconstitutional ([TAE]).

1967, Tennessee

A challenge to the 1925 Butler Act was deferred by the trial judge pending relevant legislative action to repeal the act. During this process, a teacher, Gary L. Scott, was fired from his position under the Butler Act, and brought suit. The Senate defeated the repeal measure. Scott's case brought support from the ACLU, the National Science Teachers Association, the NEA, and the AAAS. Scott was reinstated with full back pay, but Scott at this point filed a federal class action lawsuit attacking the Butler Act. The Tennessee Senate re-considered the repeal measure that had earlier been defeated, and this time passed it.

1965-66, Arkansas, Epperson v. Arkansas

Susan Epperson, a native Arkansan first-year science teacher due to soon leave the state, became the plaintiff in a test case on the constitutionality of the Arkansas anti-evolution law from 1928. The trial judge struck down the law as unconstitutional ([TAE]).

1925, Tennessee, The Scopes Trial

Arguably the most famous court trial concerning anti-evolution, the Scopes Trial has passed into the cultural consciousness as an almost mythic event. Unfortunately, there are a number of assertions commonly raised about the Scopes trial whose mythic content really is fictitious. See the Scopes Trial Frequently Rebutted Assertions page.

Anti-Evolution Political Action

2001, West Virginia, Kanawha County Board of Education

A group of 30 parents signed a complaint presented to the Kanawha County Board of Education that biology textbooks were using "false and fraudulent' information aobut evolution.

1999, Kansas Board of Education


1974, Texas, State Board of Education

Under continuing complaints from Mel and Norma Gabler, the Texas State Board of Education formally decreed that textbooks should explicitly teach evolution as "a theory" uproven by scientific fact, and that texbooks should not limit what young people might conclude about the meaning of human existence ([TAE]). All BSCS biology texts were rejected under this ruling.

1969-70, Texas, State Board of Education

Based upon complaints by Mel and Norma Gabler, the Texas State Board of Education removed two BSCS textbooks which mentioned evolution from its approved list.

In 1970, the board directed that all textbooks must identify evolution as "a theory".

1969, California, State Board of Education

The Science Framework for California Public Schools asserted the equal scientific standing of evolution and "creation theory", mandating that both be taught.

1963, California, Superintendent of Public Instruction

In response to the petition of Segraves and Sumrall, ordered that textbooks identify evolution as "a theory" ([TAE]).

1963, California, State Board of Education

Nell Segraves and Jean Sumrall petitioned the California Board of Education to have a curriculum balanced between evolution and creationism for the purpose of neutrality ([TAE]).

1926, Louisiana, Superintendent of Education

The Louisiana Superintendent of Education ordered the deletion of evolution from textbooks ([TAE]).

1925-26, Texas, State Textbook Commission

The Texas State Textbook Commission directed that all mention of evolution would be deleted from textbooks ([TAE]).

1924, North Carolina, State Board of Education

The North Carolina State Board of Education directed that no textbook giving a statement of human origins other than that of the Bible would be used ([TAE]).

1924, California, State Board of Education

The California State Board of Education issued a directive that teachers should present Darwinism "as a theory only" ([TAE]).

Other Resources

The National Center for Science Education

A non-profit organization dedicated to keeping science content in science classrooms, and non-science out of them. Offers a number of resources concerning the legal status of anti-evolutionary tactics, plus a lot more general information about the anti-evolution movement. The NCSE is the place to call to get help in opposing anti-science or non-science initiatives. They could also use your membership. Compared to the anti-science or non-science special interest groups (Discovery Institute, Institute for Creation Research, Answers In Genesis, etc.), the NCSE runs on a shoestring budget. Join up and lend a hand.

The Talk.Origins Archive

This web site collects together a large number of files which give the mainstream scientific response to anti-evolutionary claims. There are a number of essays aimed at introducing evolutionary concepts to the layman as well. The site is run entirely by volunteer effort.

Six Days or Forever, by Ray Ginger, 1957.

This book chronicles the context leading up to the Scopes Trial, with many fascinating insights into the participants. Ginger demonstrates that the Scopes Trial was a human drama and not just a clash of ideas.

Trial And Error, by Edward Larson.

This book is a scholarly overview of the history of anti-evolution measures brought to trial in the US courts. It covers anti-evolutionary action from before the Scopes Trial through the Supreme Court's decision in 1987 on the Louisiana "balanced treatment" law.

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Page Created: 2001/04/03 by Wesley R. Elsberry

Page Maintained 2001/04/03 - Present by Wesley R. Elsberry

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