Published May 25, 2013
A proposal by an Ohio school district to add creationism to a list of controversial topics deemed appropriate for classroom discussion has ignited a debate over the separation of church and state among parents and a civil rights group.
The Springboro Board of Education took comments on the proposal at a meeting Thursday night attended by parents, students and teachers. Some parents urged the board to abandon the plan, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio sent a letter to the board, saying the policy would violate the separation of church and state.
"Basically they would be teaching creationism to counteract the teaching of evolution," ACLU spokesman Nick Worner said Friday. "Anytime that you promote or teach the beliefs of one religion over all other religions or beliefs in a public school classroom, that's a problem."
Board officials did not return messages left by The Associated Press Friday seeking comment.
Creationism is the belief that the Earth and its creatures were created by a deity. The theory of evolution says that all living organisms descended from a common ancestral gene pool.
According to the school district website, "evolution/creation," ''pro-life/abortion," contraception/abstinence, legalization of drugs, gun rights, and global warming would be among the topics added to a list of "controversial issues."
Many "areas of study involve issues on which differing positions are held by individuals or groups," and all sides of an issue should be explored "fully and fairly," the proposal says.
Two years ago, Kelly Kohls, the board's current president, proposed the district offer creationism as supplemental instruction, but the idea was abandoned after parents objected and the ACLU warned of possible legal action.
Kohls said Thursday the latest proposal is intended to give teachers permission to foster discussion on controversial topics in the classroom, according to a WLWT.com report.
"There’s a lot of controversy over other issues, but these are kind of the big ones that we want to allow people to talk about it in the classroom," Kohls told the station.
Springboro Board of Education Vice President Jim Rigano told WDTN.com the proposal was brought forward in part because district officials do not want students to be indoctrinated by teachers.
"We want to make sure that all sides are being taught in a fair and balanced way and then, also, we want to encourage critical thinking," Rigano told the station.
In the ACLU letter, Legal Director James Hardiman said the proposal appears to establish the teaching of creationism as an opposing view to evolution, pitting a religious theory against science.
Springboro is about 15 miles south of Dayton in southwest Ohio.
The ACLU recently filed a lawsuit against the Jackson City Schools District in southern Ohio over a Jesus portrait that was displayed in a school there. That district eventually took the portrait down because of concerns about the potential costs of a federal lawsuit against its display.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.