The Times last week ran an article on the implementation of school vouchers in a number of states. My concern here is that the vouchers may be applied to religious schools and possibly home schools that have little oversight.
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A brief note to let readers know that my analysis of the oral arguments before the Ohio Supreme Court will be up in a couple of days. I have some background material coming from outsiders that’s yet to arrive, and my tomorrow is almost fully booked already. So: Friday at the earliest, and possibly Saturday.
UPDATE: Video of the oral arguments is now up.
Oral arguments before the Ohio Supreme Court on the termination of John Freshwater’s contract as a middle school science teacher in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, are scheduled for the morning of Wednesday, February 27. Freshwater’s case is second on the schedule. Fifteen minutes of oral arguments are allotted to each side in each case, and I don’t know how long the break between cases is, so Freshwater’s case will be heard sometime after 0930 EST (1430 UT). Oral arguments will be live streamed on The Ohio Channel, and I was told by an administrator at the Court that video of the arguments should be archived at the same site that evening.
The documents in the Court’s review are here. The core documents are Freshwater’s Merit Brief (PDF here) and the District’s Merit Brief (PDF here). In addition, Steve and Jenifer Dennis, the National Center for Science Education, the Secular Student Alliance, the American Humanist Association, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have filed amicus curiae briefs, all available at the general documents link above.
Recall that two lower courts, the Knox County Court of Common Pleas and the Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals, both ruled against Freshwater. I still have no idea why the Ohio Supreme Court accepted the case for review, particularly in view of the bait and switch Freshwater’s attorneys pulled on the Court.
I suggest that interested folks preview a couple of the archived oral argument videos to get a feel for how the Court operates. In general, attorneys for both sides get to start their presentations but are rather quickly interrupted by questions from members of the Court.
As Matt noted above, one of the creationist so-called “academic freedom” bills was filed in the Montana state legislature. Now the Sensuous Curmudgeon reports that the bill has been tabled in committee, whatever that means. In that post SC also has a video of some of the testimony at the committee hearing on the bill, noting that the proposer, Representative Clayton Fiscus, was the only speaker in support while a couple of dozen professors, teachers, and citizens testified in opposition. It’s worth watching both for the testimony in opposition and for the almost sad ignorance and confusion of Representative Fiscus. I genuinely wonder how he navigates through life given his evident inability to think coherently. if he’s the best the Disco Tute can come up with to sponsor their bills, they’re in deeper trouble than I thought.
That video is edited from the full hearing, and another set of excerpts consisting mostly of speakers’ identifications is on NCSE’s YouTube channel. It does not include Representative Fiscus’ remarks. I wouldn’t be surprised if video of the full hearing including all testimony is somewhere, but I haven’t looked for it.
Update, February 4, 2013. NCSE has just reported that the Colorado bill has failed to make it out of committee. First in the nation, for this year at least! Unhappily, the vote was 7-6, which is entirely too close for comfort.
January is barely gone, the groundhog may or may not have seen his shadow, and the National Center for Science Education reports that already 8 anti-science bills have been filed in 6 states: Colorado, Missouri (two bills), Montana, Oklahoma (two bills), Arizona, and Indiana.
As Barbara Forrest notes, “Creationists never give up.” The bills have been carefully sanitized, but all will allow teachers to teach the purported strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories, most commonly “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” According to NCSE, the bills are also generally “protective” in that they forbid state and local authorities to prohibit such teaching. The bills pretend to foster debate, but the language is clearly code words for creationism.
Update, January 27: Phil Plait reports here that the bill almost certainly will not make it out of committee.
Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy reports here on the latest creationism bill in Colorado. As always, the bill is disguised as an academic freedom bill but, as Plait says, questions evolution, cloning, and global warming and omits, say, religion and literature:
If this were really about academic freedom, why is it so specific? Why not include all fields of science, instead of just those three? In fact, why not include all academic fields? I’d be fascinated to see literature, art, and math added to that. Or religious study…how about supplementary texts that show the contradictions in the Bible? I wonder how that would go over. [Ellipsis in original.]
Me? I do not wonder at all.
Acknowledgement. Thanks to Mike Klymkowsky and James DeGregori for the link.
Douglas Axe and Ann Gauger, both of the BioLogic Institute, have put out a series of videos summarizing some of the content of “Science and Human Origins.” They attempt to undermine the case for common descent, and in particular the descent of humans from non-human ancestors. John Harshman, in comments on my posts on the use of a commercial stock photo of a lab as a background for Ann Gauger’s blather about “… a hidden secret in population genetics and in evolution,” argued that the focus on the green-screening diverts attention from the real issue, which is her mangling of the science (see here for an example). While John is right that setting the record straight on the science is important, it’s also the case that the green-screening is but one aspect of a larger effort on the part of the Disco ‘Tute to erode public confidence in ‘mainstream’ science. And that effort is what underpins the newest strategy of the Disco ‘Tute and its fellow travelers, which is to promote legislation embodying so-called “academic freedom” for public school teachers who want to teach creationism and intelligent design (see here for an overview and here for a Barbara Forrest video on it).
You will recall that attorneys for the Mt. Vernon Board of Education moved to strike parts of his merit brief, the document that makes his argument to the Ohio Supreme Court to overturn his termination as a middle school science teacher in Mt. Vernon, Ohio. The Board’s argument was that his merit brief included Propositions of Law that are significantly different from those in his Memorandum in Support of Jurisdiction, the document on which the Court’s acceptance of the case was based. I described that in Freshwater: The bait and switch laid out.
This morning I was notified that the Court has denied that motion to strike. The notification reads in full:
DECISION: Denied Ref: Motion to strike propositions of law 1 & 2, appendix pages 49 & 55-56, and supplement pages 103-116 from the merit brief of appellant
Notification Date/Time: 11/28/2012 9:15:28 AM
The ruling is not yet on the case documents site. That should be up sometime in the next 24 hours. If it says more than the notification I received I’ll flag it here.
I find the ruling inexplicable: Why would the Court accept a case on one set of Propositions of Law but then permit the appellant to argue his case on the basis of a different set Propositions? Beats the hell out of me.
NECN.com reported today that
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Carolyn Campbell lamented that she didn’t court enough voters in northeast Kansas in seeking her second term on the State Board of Education.
Her opponent, Jack Wu, was outspoken on teaching evolution and has ties to an anti-gay Topeka church notorious for picketing military members’ funerals. Campbell, a Democrat, worried GOP voters would simply follow Wu’s Republican party affiliation.
In the end, Campbell, a Topeka Democrat, received more than enough votes in Tuesday’s election, easily defeating Wu, according to unofficial results.
“I’m happy I have four more years to work for our children. That’s all I wanted to do,” Campbell said.
Wu, a Topeka computer programmer, made opposition to teaching evolution the centerpiece of his campaign. He described evolution as “Satanic lies” and said on a website that public schools were preparing students to be “liars, crooks, thieves, murderers, and perverts.”
Wu also raised eyebrows by saying that he was lured to Kansas from California in 2008 by Westboro Baptist. The Topeka church, led by the Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., is known internationally for picketing with anti-gay slogans and proclaiming that American soldiers’ deaths are God’s punishment for the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality. Wu is not formally a member, but he’s attended services regularly.
Here’s a bit more from Jack Wu’s own website:
My mission, in running for the Kansas State Board of Education, is to throw out the crap that teachers are feeding their students and replace it with healthy good for the soul knowledge from the holy scriptures.
Let’s be specific. Evolution should never be taught in public schools as science. Evolution is false science! God made the heaven and the earth and created humans from the dust of the earth! The very bad teachers that teach that men descended from apes via evolution need to have their teaching licenses revoked. Yes, students should be taught that God created everything.
As those who follow the Freshwater affair know, John Freshwater appealed his termination as an 8th grade science teacher to the Ohio Supreme Court, filing a Memorandum in Support of Jurisdiction that induced the Court to accept his appeal, then a Merit Brief which laid out his argument for overturning the termination decision and which, not incidentally, made a different argument than that made in the Memorandum in Support; in effect, Freshwater pulled a bait and switch on the Court. The Board of Education filed a Memorandum in Response to Freshwater’s Merit Brief, and Freshwater has now filed a reply. I’ll describe some salient features of his reply below the fold.
The big guns are out in the Freshwater appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court. A slew of briefs–including the Board of Education’s merit brief and amicus briefs from the National Center for Science Education, the Dennis family, Americans United for Separation of Church and State with the Anti-Defamation League, and the American Humanist Association with the Secular Student Alliance, along with requests for permission for attorneys to appear representing several of those organizations–were filed yesterday with the Court.
It will take me a while to read all the material, but below the fold I’ll mention a few highlights from a fast first reading.
Freshwater aficionados will recall that I pointed to differences between Freshwater’s request to the Ohio Supreme Court to hear his case (his Memorandum in Support of Jurisdiction–MiS) and the subsequent Merit Brief (MB) in which he actually argued his case. The Court accepted his appeal on the basis of two Propositions of Law (I and II) described in the MiS, but in the actual argument of the Merit Brief those two Propositions changed into two quite different propositions. Now the Mt. Vernon Board of Education has filed a motion to strike the two Propositions–in effect, to strike the whole basis for the acceptance Freshwater’s appeal–because of that bait and switch.
More below the fold.
Well, this is interesting! Pseudo-historian David Barton, whom we last heard from here on the Thumb declaring that America’s Founding Fathers had considered evolution, and rejected it for creationism, has had his newest book examined and rejected by a group of conservative authors headed by the Discovery Institute’s Jay W. Richards.
Last month the History News Network voted David Barton’s book “The Jefferson Lies” the “least credible history book in print.” Now the book’s publisher, Thomas Nelson, has decided to stop publishing and distributing it.
The book, which argues that Thomas Jefferson was an enthusiastic orthodox Christian who saw no need for a wall of separation between church and state, has attracted plenty of criticism since it appeared in April, with an introduction by Glenn Beck. But the death knell came after Jay W. Richards, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and the author, with James Robison, of “Indivisible: Restoring Faith, Family and Freedom Before It’s Too Late,” began to have doubts and started an investigation.
The Times blog refers to a detailed August 7th, 2012 article by Thomas Kidd at World Magazine, which notes
Richards says in recent months he has grown increasingly troubled about Barton’s writings, so he asked 10 conservative Christian professors to assess Barton’s work.
Their response was negative. Some examples: Glenn Moots of Northwood University wrote that Barton in The Jefferson Lies is so eager to portray Jefferson as sympathetic to Christianity that he misses or omits obvious signs that Jefferson stood outside “orthodox, creedal, confessional Christianity.”
More on the story in an August 10th report by Tim Murphy of Mother Jones, “The Right’s Favorite Historian Comes Apart at the Seams” :
Barton has turned the study of America’s Christian roots into a lucrative business, hawking books and video sermons, speaking at churches and political confabs, and scoring a fawning New York Times profile and interviews on the Daily Show. He’s got friends in high places: “I almost wish that there would be like a simultaneous telecast and all Americans would be forced–at gunpoint no less–to listen to every David Barton message,” Mike Huckabee told an Evangelical audience in March of 2011. “I never listen to David Barton without learning a whole lot of new things,” Newt Gingrich told conservatives in Iowa that same month.
That’s probably because much of what David Barton writes seems to have originated in David Barton’s head.
On Thursday, Barton’s publisher announced that it was recalling Barton’s newest book, The Jefferson Lies, from stores and suspending publication because it had “lost confidence” in the book’s accuracy. That came one day after NPR published a scathing fact-check of Barton’s work, specifically his claim that passages of the Constitution were lifted verbatim from the Bible.
Wow. We know how much the Discovery Institute needs to feed on disinformation and polemics. That one of their leaders had to reject Barton’s book is a strong indication that the book must be really, really, really bad!
One of the claims in John Freshwater’s appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court is that he was “…not provided any clear indication as to the kinds of materials or teaching methods which are unacceptable…”. That is, no one told poor John what he couldn’t teach by way of alternatives. I spend a little time looking for evidence that he was in fact given guidance with respect to material inappropriate for use in his 8th grade science classroom. It turns out that there’s a fair amount of evidence that on a number of occasions Freshwater was specifically instructed that creationist and intelligent design material was not appropriate. I’ll mention a few salient occasions here that took me less than 30 minutes to find. Note that they’re from sworn testimony in the administrative hearing, the basis for the original resolution to terminate Freshwater’s employment as a middle school science teacher.
First, of course, there’s Freshwater’s 2002-2003 proposal that the Mt. Vernon district adopt the Intelligent Design Network’s Objective Origins Science Policy, and to add “critically analyze evolution” language to the district’s science curriculum. In support of his proposal Freshwater offered Jonathan Wells’ Survival of the Fakest, originally published in that distinguished science journal The American Spectator (actually a conservative commentary rag). He also distributed Wells’ Ten questions to ask your biology teacher about evolution, and among those who spoke to the BOE in support of his proposal was young earth creationist Georgia Purdom, then an assistant professor at Mt. Vernon Nazarene University, now a full-time employee of Answers in Genesis.
Freshwater’s proposal was rejected by the District’s Science Curriculum Committee and then by the Board of Education. That looks like a clear indication to me.
The Columbus Dispatch is the major (and conservative-leaning) newspaper in central Ohio. Its coverage of the Freshwater case has been quite good–it had a reporter attending many of the sessions of the administrative hearing. Now, with the Ohio Supreme Court having accepted Freshwater’s appeal for consideration, the Dispatch has a strong editorial on the topic. The last three paragraphs of the editorial are
Lower courts have spoken clearly: Freshwater violated the Constitution by using his position as a teacher to attempt to impart his religious beliefs.
Equally important, he failed his students, by presenting a religious belief as science, when it is nothing of the sort. Science, by definition, is the study of natural processes, not supernatural ones. Any theory that invokes supernatural explanations for natural phenomena is not science, it is religion, and therefore is inappropriate in a science class.
The Supreme Court can do public education a great service by upholding the right of school boards to insist that science classrooms be reserved for the teaching of science.
It was good to read that.
The Ohio Supreme Court has accepted John Freshwater’s appeal of his termination as a middle school science teacher in the Mt. Vernon, Ohio, City Schools. The appeal was accepted on two Propositions of Law asserted in Freshwater’s Memorandum in Support (large-ish pdf).
The first Proposition of Law in the appeal claims that
The termination of a public school teacher’s employment contract based on the teacher’s use of academic freedom where the school board has not provided any clear indication as to the kinds of materials or teaching methods which are unacceptable cannot be legally justified, as it constitutes an impermissible violation of the rights of the teacher and his students to free speech and academic freedom under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and a manifestation of hostility toward religion in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
The second Proposition of Law claims that
The termination of a public school teacher’s employment contract based on the mere presence of religious texts from the school’s library and/or the display of a patriotic poster cannot be legally justified, as it constitutes an impermissible violation of the rights of a teacher and his students to free speech and academic freedom under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and a manifestation of hostility toward religion in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
More below the fold (if my power stays on!)
Florida Citizens for Science points to the existence of a new group, Citizens for Objective Public Education, and says,
I have an assignment for you folks. The national science standards that many states, including Florida, are considering adopting are predictably under fire due to the prominence of evolution in the draft document. Kansas has hit the news first, firing the initial shot: Kan. official wants evolution concerns considered,
referring to an AP release which is posted in somewhat longer form here. According to an AP release datelined Topeka,
I read Public money finds back door to private schools in the NYTimes last night and planned to post on it this evening, but Jerry Coyne beat me to it. I’ll quote just a bit from the story and refer you to Coyne’s post:
Mr. Arnold, the headmaster of the Covenant Christian Academy in Cumming, Ga., confirmed that his school used those texts but said they were part of a larger curriculum.
“You have to keep in mind that the curriculum goes beyond the textbook,” Mr. Arnold said. “Not only do we teach the students that creation is the way the world was created and that God is in control and he made all things, we also teach them what the false theories of the world are, such as the Big Bang theory and Darwinism. We teach those as fallacies.”
As I posted earlier, in April John Freshwater filed a Notice of Appeal and a Memorandum in Support of Jurisdiction with the Ohio Supreme Court, asking that the Court consider an appeal of his termination. Now the Board’s attorneys have filed a Memorandum in Response. Basically, the Board argues that the case as decided by the 5th District Court of Appeals is a narrow one, a “run of the mill termination case,” concerned solely with whether the Knox County Court of Common Pleas abused its discretion in denying Freshwater’s appeal of his termination. The Court of Appeals ruled that there was no abuse of discretion.
The Memorandum in Response argues that Freshwater’s appeal to the Supreme Court is no more than a ploy to convince the Supreme Court that it should “take another look at the facts”–in effect, to rehear the case. It argues that Freshwater is attempting to “transform this case into one about academic freedom and free speech,” but no substantial constitutional question is raised by it. It says that Freshwater’s invocation of academic freedom and free speech in his MIS is a “… desperate attempt to make this case appear as a matter of public or great general interest … [and] … has no basis in reality” (p. 11). The Memorandum in Response argues that had Freshwater been allowed to continue his behavior in the classroom, the Board of Education, in its failure to control Freshwater’s behavior, would itself have been exposed to the risk of violating the Establishment Clause and resulting litigation.
The next step is for the Supreme Court to decide whether it will hear the case or let the Appeals Court ruling stand. I have no idea how long that will take, but I’ll try to find out what typical delays are.