secular purpose

Eugene Volokh volokh at MAIL.LAW.UCLA.EDU
Sun Oct 31 16:05:57 PST 1999


        My claim isn't that it's a good idea not to teach evolution.  I think it's probably a bad idea in virtually all places.

        My claim is that there is an eminently plausible secular justification -- the "plausible" was part of Andy's test -- for the decision not to teach evolution, whether that decision is wise or not.  And I think that avoiding alienating citizens is such a plausible justification.

        Steve responds that acting "in order to protect ignorant young-earthers with blind faith in a misinterpretation of the Bible - in order to advance their beliefs" is an establishment clause violation, because it is "a decision to advance faith and a certain set of religious beliefs as opposed to a decision to teach rationality and fact-based knowledge."  But my point is that the legislators' actions may quite plausibly not have been "in order to" -- in the sense of motivated by -- "protect" people from challenges to their beliefs.  Again, if a for-profit school manager decides not to teach controversial ideas, he may well not be acting "in order to" advance anyone's beliefs or "in order to" protect anyone but himself; his eminently plausible justification may well be simply to avoid what he sees as unnecessary and costly controversy.  He might be smart or dumb to do so, responsible or irresponsible, but his *purpose* isn't to affirm any beliefs, only to make the school run more smoothly.

        Another analogy:  Say a businessperson or the manager of a government office learns that some of the clients of the business or office find a certain poster or painting blasphemous.  He takes it down because he doesn't want to alienate the clients.  Is he acting "in order to protect" people from blasphemy, and engaging in "a decision to advance faith and a certain set of religious beliefs"?  I'd say not:  His justification may well be, and probably is, a desire to avoid turning people away from his service.  From a plausible purpose perspective, this is exactly like the evolution teaching case.  (True, refusing to teach evolution may be more harmful to good educational values than just taking down a poster that some dislike; but that has to do with whether the decision is wise, not whether it has no plausible secular purpose.)




-----Original Message-----
From:   Steven D. Jamar [SMTP:sjamar at LAW.HOWARD.EDU]
Sent:   à 31 àå÷èåáø 1999 15:31
To:     RELIGIONLAW at listserv.ucla.edu
Subject:        Re: secular purpose



> ----------
> From:         Steven D. Jamar[SMTP:SJAMAR at LAW.HOWARD.EDU]
> Sent:         Sunday, October 31, 1999 5:30:36 AM
> To:   RELIGIONLAW at listserv.ucla.edu
> Subject:      Re: secular purpose
> Auto forwarded by a Rule
> 
How can one teach biology today without teaching evolution?  Do we really
want an even more ignorant populace because some people disbelieve all of
the evidence before their eyes?

I'm not talking about teaching evolution as the why, but it is established
that it happens - in the lab, in the field, in history, in prehistory.

A law that requires inquiry in pre-college biology and general science
courses into the why and for what purpose seems to me to meet Eugene's need
- except for those very few young-earther literalists still around.

Even physics today cannot explain why is there anything instead of
nothing?  And they cannot explain beyond untested hypotheses as to how
there is anything instead of nothing.

And though it is not the best fit with the data, many biologists would, I
suspect, and do, I suspect, concede the possibility of some invisible
motive force starting things off and maybe even punctuating change from
time to time.  But nearly all of the Christians I know, even those who
might otherwise be considered fundamentalists, agree with and have no
trouble with evolution as a fact and often as the mechanism chosen by god
to do his work.

So I disagree very strongly with Eugene.  Indeed, wouldn't banning teaching
of science from the schools alienate a very large segment of the
population?  And wouldn't that be a problem?

And wouldn't that really be an establishment decision - in order to protect
ignorant young-earthers with blind faith in a misinterpretation of the
Bible - in order to advance their beliefs - we will not teach established
facts?  Isn't that a decision to advance faith and a certain set of
religious beliefs as opposed to a decision to teach rationality and
fact-based knowledge?

Or are rationality and fact-based knowledge to go to because they are so
controversial

--
Steven D. Jamar
Professor of Law
Director LRW Program (http://www.law.howard.edu/lrw/)
Howard University School of Law
2900 Van Ness Street NW
Washington, DC  20008

vox:  202-806-8017   fax:  202-806-8428
mailto:sjamar at law.howard.edu

He who loves the law dies either mad or poor.

Thomas Middleton, "The Phoenix," c. 1607
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