Edwards v. Aguillard

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Edwards v. Aguillard is a 1987 decision of the Supreme Court of the United States which struck down a Louisiana law that required 'equal time' for the teaching of creationism alongside teaching of evolution in public school science classes. The 7-2 majority opinion was delivered by Justice William Brennan, with concurring opinions from Justices Lewis Powell and Byron White. Justices Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens and Sandra Day O'Connor also supported the majority opinion. The dissenting opinion came from Justice Antonin Scalia, with support from Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

The majority opinion held that the teaching of creationism as per the Louisiana law violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and did not, as it claimed, protect academic freedom, but rather "undermines the provision of a comprehensive scientific education", and "impermissibly endorses religion by advancing the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind"[1]. The legal defeat of the creationists forced them to follow a new strategy, relabelling creationism as intelligent design, which led to the 2004 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Board case.

Edwards is one of a long line of American court cases on creationism: the Butler Act in Tennessee led to the trial of John Scopes in Dayton, Tennessee, in 1925, where former Presidential candidate and political populist William Jennings Bryan prosecuted Scopes to the support of many Biblical fundamentalists. In the 1960s, the creation science movement started with the writings and organisation of Henry M. Morris, Duane Gish, the Institute for Creation Research and other groups - they morphed creationism from a populist religious movement and made it seem a lot more scientific, publishing books and articles claiming scientific support for creationism and casting doubt on evidence claimed by evolution - what scholars refer to as a move from creationism to creation science. In 1968, the Supreme Court in Epperson v. Arkansas decided that bans on the teaching of evolutionary biology were an unconstitutional violation of the Establishment Clause.

It wasn't until the 1980s and the rise of a politically active Christian Right stoked by preachers and televangelists like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell Sr., organised into groups like the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition, that creationism became politically viable at the local level. A number of states passed laws like the Louisiana law which required 'equal time' - the law that was passed in Louisiana was called the "Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction Act". A similar law was passed in Arkansas a few years earlier, and was challenged in 1981 in the U.S. District Court case McLean v. Arkansas. In both McLean and in the cases leading up to the Supreme Court appeal of Edwards, scientists, philosophers, theologians and other academics were brought forward to testify as to the scientific opinion of evolution and creationism, and for the conditions that mark the boundaries of science and religion (what philosophers of science call the demarcation problem). One of the expert witnesses on the creationist side in an earlier appeal in the Edwards case, Dean H. Kenyon, would later write the textbook Of Pandas and People which was taught in Dover, Pennsylvania, and led to the Kitzmiller case.
  1. Talk Origins Archive, Edwards v. Aguillard decision