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Debate erupts over proposal to teach creationism in Brunswick schools

Updated
Thanks to Dave Vallett for the link.

http://www.starnewsonline.com/article/20080929/ARTICLES/809290288/1155?Title=Debate_erupts_over_proposal_to_teach_creationism_in_Brunswick_schools

Debate erupts over proposal to teach creationism in Brunswick schools
By Ana Ribeiro

A Southern Baptist minister thinks it's a good idea. A Catholic priest disagrees. A Buddhist monk says, come all.

The Brunswick County school board's desire to teach creationism alongside evolution in the classroom — which many consider a violation of the separation of church and state, as backed by past court decisions — has launched a debate that has spread to local religious communities, the Internet and beyond.

It has prompted people from outside the county to e-mail the board. It has drawn ridicule in online forums and blogs, reacting to the comments of board member Jimmy Hobbs, who characterized evolution as an atheistic concept, and parent Joel Fanti, who said he wasn't around 2 million years ago to witness evolution at work.

"It just amazes me some of those responses, how venomous they have been," said Fanti, who sparked the debate by proposing at the board's Sept. 16 meeting that the teaching of creationism share classroom time with evolution. "I don't even know what their definition of religion is. I can argue their views on evolution are a religion, too, because it can't be proven."

The Rev. Brad Ferguson, Fanti's pastor at New Beginnings Community Church in Shallotte, said he supports Fanti's views.

"There is some scientific evidence supporting creationism," the Southern Baptist minister said. "Kids should be presented both sides. … You can't isolate disciplines. Science and faith — they go together."

Not all Christians find that appropriate for the classroom.

Religion in class?

Father Hector La Chapelle, of Shallotte's St. Brendan the Navigator Roman Catholic Church, said he's concerned about a literal, one-sided interpretation of the Bible being presented in schools.

La Chapelle, who e-mailed the school board opposing the idea of teaching creationism, said the belief has no place in a school curriculum and he's against even having a Bible class, because it's not up to public schools to teach religion.

"The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go," La Chapelle said, echoing the words of his e-mail to the board. "We don't take the Bible literally, or as a history or science book. It's a faith document. Evolution is not a religious question. It's a scientific question. It doesn't go against my belief that God created the world."

The school system has enough lawsuits to deal with and is misdirecting its energies discussing adding a subject that is not even allowed by the state, the church's e-mail to the board says.

St. Brendan's has a following of 1,680 families and 411 children, many of them involved in the Brunswick County school system, said Mary Hart, the church's faith formation director and co-signer in its e-mail to the board. Hart said that she, like Fanti, has a child who attends West Brunswick High School.

"I think the board members are trying to inject their belief in the school system, and that troubles me," Hart said. "As a Christian, I don't think they represent all Christians."

At the Wat Carolina Buddhist monastery near the county schools' central office in Bolivia, head monk Phra Vidhuradhamma has an inclusive approach to the question. Although Vidhuradhamma knows the law restricts the teaching of religion in schools and it must be followed, he'd like every religion to be taught equally in schools, he said.

But he said that would be difficult to achieve because most of the community's residents are Christian.

"I think it would be good for human beings to learn everything," Vidhuradhamma said. "We need to learn more and more, to be open-minded, to understand."

When asked about his view on how things began, Buddhist monk Vidhuradhamma took a lid off a mug and ran his finger around it, smiling.

A circle, he pointed out — with an infinite number of beginnings.

Local debate, national interest

Brunswick County school board Chairwoman Shirley Babson has received e-mails on the creationism issue from the Catholic church, a biologist and people from as far as the state of Washington. Out of the seven obtained by the Star-News, one e-mail — from an Ocean Isle Beach resident — favored the teaching of creationism in the classroom.

School board member Scott Milligan, absent from the Sept. 16 meeting where the discussion on teaching creationism began, said he came back into town and walked into a controversy he doesn't want to respond to without having all the facts.

In a matter of hours, the story spread from the Star-News forums to sites all over the Internet, including the popular science blog Pharyngula, which has registered more than 200 comments on the topic at scienceblogs.com/pharyngula.

Comments there were overwhelmingly unsympathetic toward Fanti's request and the board's response, many wondering if they hadn't heard of the Dover, Pa., case of 2005, in which a federal judge ruled the teaching of "intelligent design" in the classroom unconstitutional.

As local and state school districts tried to insert creationism into the science curriculum, a string of Supreme Court and other court decisions have ruled its teaching, or that of variations like "intelligent design," a violation of the separation of church and state.

The state's stance

The state school system says that, although creationism cannot be taught in science class or as a standard course of study, it can be taught as part of an elective. It can also be included in history class, as long as it's presented as a cultural perspective along with all other religions and not promoted over any religions or secularism, said Tracey Greggs, social studies chief with the N.C.

Department of Public Instruction.

"Because our society is so pluralistic, it would not be beneficial to teach one religion over another," Greggs said.

After reading e-mails by people disgruntled about the idea of teaching creationism, hearing about the state's point of view and consulting with attorney Kathleen Tanner, Babson said she thinks the board will not try to go against the law to teach creationism, although she would like to see it in the classroom one day.

Fanti said he learned about the court cases after addressing the board and now thinks the idea of teaching creationism as part of the curriculum will be crushed. But he plans to ask the school board to encourage "evolutionists" in the schools to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of their theory.

"Instead of making it a religious issue, let's make it a scientific issue," said Fanti, who identifies himself as a chemical engineer.

TAGGED: CREATIONISM, EDUCATION, EVOLUTION, RELIGION


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