TOPEKA, Kan. — An anti-evolution group filed a federal lawsuit Thursday to block Kansas from using new, multistate science standards in its public schools, arguing the guidelines promote atheism and violate students’ and parents’ religious freedom.
The group, Citizens for Objective Public Education, had criticized the standards developed by Kansas, 25 other states and the National Research Council for treating both evolution and climate change as key scientific concepts to be taught from kindergarten through 12th grade. The Kansas State Board of Education adopted them in June to replace evolution-friendly standards that had been in place since 2007.
The new standards, like the ones they replaced, reflect the mainstream scientific view that evolution is well-established. Most board members believed the guidelines will improve science education by shifting the emphasis in science classes to doing hands-on projects and experiments.
The group, a nonprofit organization based in the small community of Peck, south of Wichita, was joined in its lawsuit by parents of public school students across the state. They’re suing the board, its 10 members, Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker and the state Department of Education.
The case is the latest chapter in a long-running debate in Kansas over what to teach students about 19th century naturalist Charles Darwin’s theories on evolution and scientific developments since. Kansas has had six different sets of science standards in the past 15 years, as conservative Republicans skeptical of evolution gained and lost board majorities.
The lawsuit argues that the new standards will cause Kansas public schools to promote a “non-theistic religious worldview” by allowing only “materialistic” or “atheistic” explanations to scientific questions, particularly about the origins of life and the universe. The suit further argues that state would be “indoctrinating” impressionable students in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution’s protections for religious freedom.
John Calvert, a Lake Quivira attorney representing the group and the parents, said the new standards are particularly troubling because students would start learning evolutionary concepts in kindergarten. Calvert was a key figure in past Kansas evolution debates and helped found the Intelligent Design Network, which contends that life is too complex to have developed through unguided evolution.
“By the time you get into the third grade, you learn all the essential elements of Darwinian evolution,” Calvert said in an interview with The Associated Press before the filing. “By the time you’re in middle school, you’re a Darwinist.”
Kansas uses its standards to develop statewide tests given to students each year to judge how well schools are teaching, which in turn influence what happens in classrooms. New tests could take up to four years to develop.
The lawsuit suggests that if the federal court won’t block the standards completely, it could bar the state from implementing standards dealing with the origins of life and the universe until high school and require schools to incorporate “adequate and reasonably complete information” about those topics afterward.
The information included in the lawsuit is reminiscent of material skeptical of evolution inserted at the urging of Calvert and other intelligent design proponents in science guidelines adopted by a conservative-led State Board of Education in 2005.