|Wesley R. Elsberry
Joined: May 2002
ROB's first three "salient points" he gets exactly bass-ackward.
First, ROB's points 1 & 2 reference the same issue: is deleting some portion or particular concept from a field of study permissible? 1 is simply noting that ROB's suggestion is such a thing, and 2 is a quote from the opinion that ROB thinks supports the notion.
The Epperson v. Arkansas decision, though, shows us that Arkansas had an even narrower excision in mind than ROB's proposal:
 Initiated Act No. 1, Ark. Acts 1929; Ark. Stat. Ann. 80-1627, 80-1628 (1960 Repl. Vol.). The text of the law is as follows:
" 80-1627. - Doctrine of ascent or descent of man from lower order of animals prohibited. - It shall be unlawful for any teacher or other instructor in any University, College, Normal, Public School, or other institution of the State, which is supported in whole or in part from public funds derived by State and local taxation to teach the theory or doctrine that mankind ascended or descended from a lower order of animals and also it shall be unlawful for any teacher, textbook commission, or other authority exercising the power to select textbooks for above mentioned educational institutions to adopt or use in any such institution a textbook that teaches the doctrine or theory that mankind descended or ascended from a lower order of animals.
" 80-1628. - Teaching doctrine or adopting textbook mentioning doctrine - Penalties - Positions to be vacated. - Any teacher or other instructor or textbook commissioner who is found guilty of violation of this act by teaching the theory or doctrine mentioned in section 1 hereof, or by using, or adopting any such textbooks in any such educational institution shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be fined not exceeding five hundred dollars; and upon conviction shall vacate the position thus held in any educational institutions of the character above mentioned or any commission of which he may be a member."
That's the law at issue, and the precise concept prohibited is exactly common descent of humans and other animals. And that law is what the Supreme Court overturned, 9-0.
ROB point 3 quotes Justice Black saying that Arkansas might have dropped an entire field of study from the curriculum, and in that instance it would have been difficult to see an establishment issue in the action. How this is "salient" to ROB's argument that dropping "common descent" specifically could be constitutional is left without support or even argument. The part he underlined is, in fact, fatal to his thesis, as its implication is that wholesale dropping of a field of study covers the tracks of religious motivation, but removing a specific concept known to be at odds with a narrow religious doctrine allows us to recognize and respond to that.
ROB point 4 again does his argument no favors, as within a longer quote he provides:
It is quite another thing for a State to make it a criminal offense for a public school teacher so much as to mention the very existence of an entire system of respected human thought.
Common descent does represent such a system of respected human thought. ROB has provided nothing that would even begin to indicate that the statement above would not apply.
As for missing salient points, one wonders how ROB missed this in the decision:
In any event, we do not rest our decision upon the asserted vagueness of the statute. On either interpretation of its language, Arkansas' statute cannot stand. It is of no moment whether the law is deemed to prohibit mention of Darwin's theory, or to forbid any or all of the infinite varieties of communication embraced within the term "teaching." Under either interpretation, the law must be stricken because of its conflict with the constitutional prohibition of state laws respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The overriding fact is that Arkansas' law selects from the body of knowledge a particular segment which it proscribes for the sole reason that it is deemed to conflict with a particular religious doctrine; that is, with a particular interpretation of the Book of Genesis by a particular religious group.
Last night, I wrote this in the comments on my blog:
As a follow-up, I’d just like to say that it is the perennial optimism of those who would like to entrench ignorance that gets us to the point where lawsuits become necessary. The Dover school board thought they were going to win. It not only did not work out that way, it turned into a fiasco that the Discovery Institute continues to hope that wishful thinking will make it go away.
ROB says, let’s just take “common descent” out of the curriculum. What’s the logic here? Common descent has lots of empirical support. Why should students be deprived of learning about this big idea in science? The “why” question becomes important, especially when a court gets involved. ROB might have a motive of spite when it comes to me, but spite isn’t really a believable justification for a school board to throw away a whole branch of human inquiry, especially one that comes with data and a history of critical tests. A believable, but constitutionally unjustified, motive is the privileging of a particular religious doctrine. Depriving students of knowing about common descent serves no secular purpose, and only makes sense in the light of a religious antievolution motive.
I don’t think that would be difficult to present to a judge. ROB might still not “see” it, but he ultimately is not who needs to be convinced.
"You can't teach an old dogma new tricks." - Dorothy Parker