Iowa School Board
Ousts Intelligent Design
Discovery Institute did not even put up a
Fight this Time
By Dr. Hector Avalos, Ames, Iowa
vote of 4-1 the Spencer (Iowa) Community School Board of Education agreed "to discontinue the pursuit of a Religious Liberty Policy" (see
http://www.spenceriowaschools.com/pdfs/minutes/ minutes_141.pdf; and
This is as official as it gets, at
least for the foreseeable future, in the effort to defeat an attempt to
introduce Intelligent Design and a sectarian Bible class earlier in that school
district. And, this time, the Discovery Institute did not even put up a fight
One of the first hints that
Intelligent Design was being discussed as part of a "religious liberty" policy
came on July 3, 2009 when the local newspaper, The Spencer Daily Reporter, published its account of a meeting of
the school board. The report stated: "With...the 'Darwin's Black Box' book by
Michael Behe in hand, and a handful of community members' insights, Van Wyk and
Schlichtemeier drafted the policy presented Tuesday night." See http://www.spencerdailyreporter.com/story/1552154.html
Barbara Van Wyk, an ordained Assemblies of God minister,
and David Schlichtemeier, the school board president, were the school board
members promoting this idea under the banner of a "religious liberty" policy.
Such "religious liberty" policies have been marketed by the Discovery Institute
as a means to introduce Intelligent Design into classrooms, especially after
the momentous legal defeat of Intelligent Design at Dover in 2005.
Earlier this year, Rod Roberts, an Iowa state legislator,
also tried to introduce a religious liberty policy in Iowa, but it never moved
forward at all, especially after state-wide vocal protests from Iowa scientists
and educators. Yet, Iowa does not have a single state-wide school board, but
rather numerous local ones. So, the first problem is how to express concerns to
a school board that might see those outside of their district as, well,
It turned out that school board members were surprised by
the intensity of complaints registered in, among other places, The Des Moines Register. On July 8, I contacted Rekha Basu,
the popular Des Moines Register
columnist, who has been a supporter of science education in the past. She wrote a critical column on the
Spencer School board policy on July 13.
By August, the second draft of the policy had omitted
references to intelligent design or challenging "Darwinism." However, the ID
issue was not dead yet, and it could be revived, especially with school board
elections coming on September 8.
In the meantime, I helped to assemble a small coalition,
consisting of Dr. Warren Blumenfeld, a
professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Iowa State University, Bob Ready,
the president of the Iowa Secularists, and Connie Terrell, Executive
Director of the Interfaith
Alliance of Iowa.
Connie Terrell was able to persuade the school
Superintendent, Greg Ebeling to meet with us. On September 29, Terrell, Blumenfeld and I held a very
cordial meeting in Spencer with Mr. Ebeling and Todd Korbitz, the new president
of the school board. We expressed our concerns and the problems with religious
liberty policies and Intelligent Design.
By then, some luck and voters had intervened. Barbara Van
Wyk did not run for re-election, and David Schlichtemeier, was voted out.
The Des Moines Register (October 31,
2009; quote in the print version only), "He [Schlichtemeier] said the religious
liberties policy was a factor."
In any case, the meeting on September 29 with Ebeling and
Korbitz was quite friendly, and they seemed grateful for our input. In particular, I expressed my concern
that their definition of "religion" was too broad, and could even include
science. They seemed sincere in
trying to teach good science to their students.
The defeat of this "religious liberty" policy does harbor
potential lessons for others trying to fight these anti-science actions in
local school districts. First,
college faculty members should not underestimate the power of their opinions on
these issues even in school districts where these faculty members do not
Yes, some school board members might resent outsiders, but
others welcome expertise and attention from respected institutions. This is
especially the case if advice is given with courtesy and tact. The school board must be convinced that
the aim is to further good science education rather than to impose some
ideological hegemony on a small school district. One should try to contact school board members, and see how
open they are to outside advice before dismissing any interaction as a lost
coordinated actions by coalitions are extremely important. Although I am an
incompatibilist in terms of religion and science (i.e., I donít think that
religion and science are philosophically compatible), the fact remains that
many religious people do support evolution, science education, and the
separation of religion and government. When a common goal is to keep
creationism out of schools, and good science education in schools, then the
practical thing to do is to work together with interfaith alliances.
Finally, vigilance and rapid action are always important.
This means having shoes on the ground -- a ready group of educators,
scientists, and other allies ready to write letters, draft petitions, and even
travel (in our case, about 3-4 hours) in person to places where we could make a
best news is that the Discovery Institute did not even put up a fight at all in
Spencer, Iowa. Perhaps they just did not want to suffer another humiliating
defeat in Iowa, or perhaps they just didnít care.>If the Discovery Institute has given up on Iowa, then that
is reason to celebrate. However, my past experience also tells me not to be