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Evolution in court: 'both sides win'

By Stewart McBrideStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / March 9, 1981

Sacramento, Calif.

Fundamentalist Christian groups say the just-concluded "California monkey trial" was only the beginning of a nationwide crusade against the teachings of Darwinian evolution in public schools to the exclusion of the Biblical account of creation.

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A superior court judge ruled here March 6 that this state's policy of teaching evolution in science classes does not violate the freedom of those who believe the literal accuracy of the Book of Genesis, which says God created man. But, declaring that "both sides have won," Judge Irving Perluss went on to reprimand the California Department of Education for not adequately communicating to its teachers that evolution should be taught as theory, not as dogma.

"We've done what we came here to do: that is, establish the rights of the Christian child," said Kelly Segraves, the seminary-trained Baptist who directs the Creation Science Research Center in San Diego and filed suit against the state on behalf of three of his children. Hugging his 13-year old son, Casey, after the trial, Mr. Segraves told the Monitor: "We've made sure dogmatic assertions can't be made in the science classroom anymore."

The five-day trial drew overflow crowds and national media coverage; it was broadcast live to a potential cable television audience of 5 million people. The outcome is expected to give momentum to the efforts of fundamentalist Christian churches to win "equal time" for the Biblical version of creation in public school classrooms. So far they have succeeded in having legislation to that effect introduced in a dozen states.

The courts repeatedly have refused to outlaw the teaching of evolution in the public schools, but some local school boards now require that the so-called "creationist" theory be taught in addition to evolution. In Washington County, Va., for example, teachers are required to read to their students a school board resolution that points to creationism as an alternative to evolution. In DeKalb County, Ga., biology teachers must show a "creation-life" film strip.

Conservative Christian groups like Moral Majority appear to be feeling their political oats, says University of California law Prof. Jesse Choper, who predicts, over the next several years, a resurrection of constitutional debates of religious issues such as evolution, prayer in the schools, and federal aid to church schools.

"More than likely, the Moral Majority groups will be raising the old church-state issues. And yet I don't think the present Supreme Court is going to back off. These groups will probably be more successful going directly to state legislatures and school boards," says Professor Choper, who teaches constitutional law and is a recognized authority on the First Amendment and religious freedom.

Most of the media people and the spectators who flocked to the fifth floor of the Sacramento County Courthouse seemed to expect this trial to be a repeat of the famous and stormy 1925 Scopes "monkey trial" in which John Thomas Scopes, a high-school biology teacher in Dayton, Tenn., was sued by the state for teaching the theory of evolution.