I was just involved in a lengthy Facebook debate involving the presence of religion in the science classroom.  As I understood it, my debate partner was arguing that a teacher should not be able to disagree with a student's religious beliefs if the religious beliefs contradicted science.  One of his final responses to me was:

"It’s unconstitutional for a public institution to tell someone their religion is untrue. Period."

I asked what passage in the Constitution contained this prohibition, but received no answer.  What passage could this be referencing?  Any ideas?  I am fairly certain that it is mostly likely a perversion of the establishment clause, but I fully admit that I am no expert on the Constitution. 

Tags: Constitution, belief, legal, public, religion, school, science, teacher

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The First Amendment of the Constitution was about the government and for freedom of worship. Nothing about anybody else or any other institution for having an opinion about somebody else's religion. If people didn't stand up when religion contradicted science, we'd never be able to even fly kites, let alone fly to the moon.
I would assume that was this facebooker's angle. Perhaps this person thinks that if something like Engel v. Vitale ruled out prayers in schools on the basis of the establishment clause in the First Amendment, a similar case must be true for teaching evolution, or that the Earth isn't the centre of the universe... or that dinosaurs did not exist in the right time frame for Jesus to ride around on, unless you're going by Eddie Izzard's account of things.

Well, that's argument doesn't really work for reasons I doubt I'd need to explain to anyone here, but it's all I can think of. My understanding is that the constitution doesn't deal with religion at any great lengths. I think there's mention that religion can't be a requirement for holding any government office, and then there's the first amendment. I've never heard of anything else mentioned, but then I've never read all of the US constitution. As a Canadian, there's a limit to how much I care.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is similar. You have the freedom of conscience and religion. The law also cannot discriminate on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. (Actually, that clause is secondary to the more important statement that everyone is equal under the law.)

Teaching evolution in the science classroom is no more in conflict with either constitution than is teaching Genesis in a world religions classroom.
As a Canadian, there's a limit to how much I care.

Quit trying to make me jealous with your health care and lack of evangelicals! Just kidding. ;)

I agree, I think it was some sort of reference to the establishment clause. But I was having a hard time understanding how talking about scientific evidence which just happened to contradict a religious belief could seriously be considered as religious discrimination.
But I was having a hard time understanding how talking about scientific evidence which just happened to contradict a religious belief could seriously be considered as religious discrimination.

Being rational, it doesn't, but then I'm sure you've completely acknowledged the most likely scenario: it simply wasn't a rational argument.

In my mind, Canadians and Americans have unrealistic notions of 'freedom'. I don't know how to describe it with any brevity, but there's a very egocentric tone behind the way we use the word. "I am free to live as I please." "I am free to believe as I please."

Many Americans have told me that the Constitution guarantees this. Yeah, sure, maybe... I'm not so sure, but I have seen it happen many times that when someone perceives their freedoms as being challenged, they jump to the Constitution to save them whether it makes any sense or not. So is science a challenge to freedom?

For me it's not. It empowers me to make better choices -- more informed decisions. Then again, the more you know, the more obligation you should feel to make better choices, even if it goes against the lies you'd love to tell yourself to make life seem easier. If someone is clinging to religion because of the comfort it provides, the sense of cultural security provides, the sense of homeostasis it provides, then knowledge produced by science obligates them to slowly let go of chunks of their religion. It removes the choice to be irrational or ignorant. Irrationality and ignorance are great tools for personal survival.

That, to many people, must feel like an assault on their freedom, so they run to the Constitution to protect them, but it can't. It cannot, nor do I think it was ever designed to, protect people from reality. Reality is, it's not the 18th century anymore. Science, culture, society... pretty much everything has changed in the last two centuries, and no document can protect people who desperately cling to a disappearing past. Eventually these people will lose, not to government, nor law, nor atheism, nor liberal, leftist, communist whatever, but to reality itself. Sadly, they'll probably be able to drag their heels right through our lifetimes.

Fucking babies.
The same people who so often bemoan that their Constitutional rights are being violated are usually the same people who know the least about the Constitution or Constitutional rights.
If people didn't stand up when religion contradicted science, we'd never be able to even fly kites, let alone fly to the moon.

Excellent point. I kept trying to raise the geocentric/heliocentric divide of astronomy to illustrate my point that when truth contradicts religion, the truth will eventually prevail. Or, at least, hopefully... :/
It is a popular battle cry for idiots these days to claim all sorts of things as being un-Constitutional. These people are simply ignorant and don't understand the Constitution, science, or law in any shape or form.
It just irritates me when someone cites a document and refuses to provide an exact quote. I mean, it's the friggin Constitution, there are a million copies online; it would take thirty seconds to copy-paste whatever clause is being cited. I get super frustrated because I am no expert in Constitutional law, and I genuinely start to question myself and wonder if I am just outstandingly ignorant of some huge statement in the document. Then I realize that the person I'm arguing with is even more ignorant than I am and I get even more frustrated for letting them make me question myself. Does that make sense? Lol.

I honestly think that the basic rules of logic, debate, and rhetoric need to be incorporated into the public school elementary curriculum. We need to reinstate some of the basic tenets of a Classical education. Not in hopes of spawning a generation of Sophists, but simply in an endeavor to graduate students who can actually hold a logical debate and support their own statements.
As an educator, I damn sure wouldn't go telling a kid any such thing. I would phrase it as non-confrontational as I possibly could. Something like "I'm not talking about your beliefs or anything like that, I'm only telling you what is scientific fact. I can't change that. Sorry."
The debate honestly confused me. Originally, I thought that the poster was arguing that religious beliefs should not be disproved by scientific evidence in the classroom;I thought that he was basically arguing for the suppression of science in order to avoid possibly contradicting a student's beliefs.

But I totally agree with you, that it need not be a confrontational exchange. If the student asks a question like, "My Bible says that the world was created in six days. Is this true?" then the teacher does not necessarily need to respond, "ABSOLUTELY NOT!! THAT'S A LIIIIIIIEEEE!!" Instead, the teacher can provide the scientific evidence--which just happens to prove that this is not possible--and let the student make up their own mind. Like you said, only talk about the scientific facts and not even address the religious belief. If the child (hopefully) concludes that their belief is in error in light of the scientific fact, then that is not the fault of the educator. In the FB debate, it seemed like the guy wanted teachers to say something like, "Well, anything is possible! So sure, the world could have been created in six days, even though we have a ton of evidence against that fact!"

If anything, the guy wanted the belief to be directly addressed and indirectly affirmed.
I think that the science teacher has every right to disagree with religious beliefs. Afterall the teacher is employed to teach science not myth. The science classroom should not promote religion.

In December 2009 religion & science classes were in the headlines and the concept of Intelligent Design (ID) was said to be "creationism in disguise" -
"Judge rules against ‘intelligent design’
‘Religious alternative’ to evolution barred from public-school science classes
‘ID is not science’
In his ruling, Jones said that while intelligent design, or ID, arguments “may be true, a proposition on which the court takes no position, ID is not science.” Among other things, he said intelligent design “violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation”; it relies on “flawed and illogical” arguments; and its attacks on evolution “have been refuted by the scientific community.”


The entire "intelligent design" thing really irritates me, and especially how ID proponents try to argue that they are not really creationists. But if you ever get to the ultimate root of their assertions, it always inevitably devolves into a supernatural force and uncaused cause as the ultimate source of life. All that they have done is give God the stage name of "The Designer."

But the worst part is that nothing in intelligent design is even testable! I remember watching that documentary which Ben Stein put out last year, Expelled. I mean, all of these people at the Discovery Institute are crying that the scientific community is barring them from conducting research and exploring the tenets of intelligent design. But there is no experiment that they could hold to even conduct research! It is the unfalsifiability of their statements that prevent them from conducting research, yet they want to claim that it is discrimination and lack of funding. Such complete bullshit!


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