Opinion: �Beyond Scopes�

January 12, 2006

Source: Martin Marty Center


On January 12, 2006 the Martin Marty Center ran an opinion piece by John Witte Jr., the Jonas Robitscher Professor of Law and Director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University. "Eighty years ago, the nation stood transfixed by the spectacle of two giants, William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, fighting valiantly over the place of creation and evolution in public schools... But the 1925 Scopes Trial was a signal for many battles to come.

This fall, the nation stood transfixed again by the same battle rejoined in Dover, Pennsylvania�now pitting proponents of intelligent design (ID) against the ACLU. This time the ACLU won handily. Their main argument: ID is simply biblical creationism by another name, and to teach it in public schools violates the First Amendment prohibition on government establishments of religion... This two-sided compact of religion and education, while by no means perfect, strikes me as a prudent way to negotiate the nation's growing pluralism. Both the right and the left should stop trying to renegotiate the basic terms of the compact, and work instead to maximize liberty for all within these terms. The right has spent untold millions the past two decades trying to introduce bland prayers, banal morals, and now bleached theology into public schools. That money should have funded a national scholarship and voucher program that gives real educational choice to the poor. The left has spent untold millions more trying to cut religious schools and their students from equal access to funds, facilities, and forums available to all others. That money could have shored up many public schools that are disastrously failing.

We have the luxury of litigating about issues of religious symbolism in public life, but we might do better if we tended to the weightier matters of the law."