Published January 08, 2002
WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court declined Monday to be drawn into a debate over the teaching of evolution in America's public schools.
The refusal is a victory for schools that require teachers to instruct on the subject even if the teacher disagrees with the scientific theory.
It's a loss for a Christian biology teacher in Minnesota who was reassigned amid questions about his views on evolution. Justices declined without comment to review Rodney LeVake's case.
"This case presents the court with an opportunity to reaffirm that public high school teachers are not First Amendment orphans," LeVake's attorney, Wayne B. Holstad, wrote in court filings.
LeVake briefly instructed his Minnesota high school students on the subject, but told a colleague that he had scientific doubts about Charles Darwin's view of species' gradual change. Evolution describes development of life on Earth from single-celled organisms over about 3.5 billion years.
When confronted by school leaders in 1998, he proposed offering students "an honest look at the difficulties and inconsistencies of the theory without turning my class into a religious one."
LeVake believes that God created the world in six days, known as creationism. He was reassigned to a ninth grade teaching job in the southern Minnesota town of Faribault, home to about 20,000 residents.
His case presented the Supreme Court an opportunity to revisit the debate over public school instruction on the origin of man. In 1987, justices struck down a Louisiana law that prohibited the teaching of evolution without equal time for creationism.
The school district argues that LeVake wants permission to teach his own views.
"This court has never held that under the First Amendment, schools are the mere instruments of the advancement of the individual agendas of its teachers," Kay Nord Hunt wrote in court filings for the school.
LeVake, who has a master's degree in biology education, contends that his reassignment violated his constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of religion.
Holstad told justices that LeVake "was silenced, not for anything he said in the classroom, but merely for holding a contrary viewpoint and expressing a desire to say certain things that the school district deemed out of step with its officially imposed orthodoxy."
A judge had dismissed a lawsuit LeVake filed against the Faribault School District, and Minnesota appeals courts upheld the dismissal. LeVake appealed to the Supreme Court.
The case is LeVake v. Independent School District No. 656, 01-665.