Private school scholarship programs “have been twisted to benefit private schools at the expense of the neediest children,” according to The New York Times (May 22, 2012) — and part of the problem involves the teaching of creationism. At issue are programs in eight states that allow taxpayers to donate money to non-profit groups that award scholarships to students attending private schools; the taxpayers receive tax credits in return for their donations. “This school year alone, the programs redirected nearly $350 million that would have gone into public budgets to pay for private school scholarships for 129,000 students,” the Times reported, adding, “While the scholarship programs have helped many children whose parents would have to scrimp or work several jobs to send them to private schools, the money has also been used to attract star football players, expand the payrolls of the nonprofit scholarship groups and spread the theology of creationism.”
“Some of the schools use textbooks produced by Bob Jones University Press and A Beka Book, a Christian publisher in Pensacola, Fla.,” the Times observed. Such textbooks were at issue in the 2005 legal case ACSI v. Stearns, where the plaintiffs charged that the University of California system discriminated against applicants from Christian schools by rejecting high school biology courses that use these creationist textbooks as “inconsistent with the viewpoints and knowledge generally accepted in the scientific community.” In court documents, the university system described the books as “inappropriate for use as primary texts in college preparatory science courses due to their characterizations of religious doctrine as scientific evidence, scientific inaccuracies, failure to encourage critical thinking, and overall un-scientific approach.” The plaintiffs, though aided by the expert witness Michael Behe, lost their case as well as their subsequent appeals.
According to the Times, “Most of the private schools are religious. Nearly a quarter of the participating schools in Georgia require families to make a profession of religious faith, according to their Web sites. Many of those schools adhere to a fundamentalist brand of Christianity. A commonly used sixth-grade science text retells the creation story contained in Genesis, omitting any other explanation.” “You have to keep in mind that the curriculum goes beyond the textbook,” the headmaster of a Christian school in Georgia told the Times, adding, “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.” The Times explained, “The programs are insulated from provisions requiring church-state separation because the donations are collected and distributed by the nonprofit scholarship groups.”