home1.gif (8619 bytes)

At the Front in Tangipahoa Parish

Barbara Forrest
of Southeastern Louisiana University

As for the disclaimer in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, I am sitting in Tangipahoa Parish this minute; my university is right in the middle of it. The disclaimer passed by the school board was the board's response to the failure by one vote to pass a policy to teach creationism in public schools.

One of my departmental colleagues, historian Howard Nichols, was a board member at the time (1994) and succeeded in getting the board to reject the creationism policy.

The policy had been suggested to the board by members of the Christian Coalition and a New Orleans creationist group. Two board members, Jake Bailey and Art Zieske, both religious fundamentalists, brought it before the board. In response to losing the vote Bailey immediately proposed the disclaimer requiring all science teachers to read a disclaimer before teaching evolution.

The board’s attorney explicitly advised against inserting the reference to the Bible in the disclaimer, but Bailey rejected this advice. The disclaimer is nothing more than Bailey's insistence on having some reference to religion in public school classrooms.

The ACLU, where I served on the Board of Directors, took the school board to court. In August of this year federal Judge Marcel Livaudais declared the disclaimer unconstitutional, after which the board voted to appeal the ruling. The appeal is still pending.

I just received yesterday a copy of an amicus brief entitled "Brief Amicus Curiae of the Christian Legal Society and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, in Support of Appellants". This amicus brief was filed on behalf of the school board by a number of people, the most recognizable of whom is Phillip Johnson. In the list of authoritative sources cited is Darwin's Black Box.

Recently, moreover, leading scientists have challenged on scientific grounds the conjunction of evolution and the general materialistic presuppositions of nineteenth-century philosophy ... and the more specific view that there is no purposeful cause for the universe. For example in Darwin's Black Box (1997), Michael Behe, an eminent secular biochemist, views the complexity of biochemical machines as powerful evidence against a nondesign theory of origins.

Several of Johnson's works are also cited; as is a work by John Polkinghorne entitled Quarks, Chaos and Christianity. The complete list of cited works is pretty long.

The involvement of the Rutherford Institute in this case—in a small rural parish in a largely rural state—and the involvement of people like Johnson shows that they take this case to be significant. If they can win this case on appeal, the rest of the country had better watch out. So far, creationists have never won in federal court, so our fingers are crossed.

The Institute for First Amendment Studies has a very good article on the  Rutherford Institute.

home1.gif (8619 bytes)