OMG! Evolution tee shirts banned for violating religious neutrality

A band at Smith-Cotton High School in Sedalia, Missouri had the cute idea of wearing tee shirts showing a sequence of human evolution that culminated in a trumpet player.  We’re all familiar with these ape-to-human diagrams; Steve Gould even wrote an article about them.  They’re somewhat misleading, implying as they do that evolution is progressive and (sometimes) that we evolved from modern apes. But they don’t really do any harm, and they do promote the fact that humans evolved.

But that’s the rub. As reported in the Sedalia Democrat, some irate parents forced the band to abandon its shirts,

[Assistant Superintendant] Pollitt said the district is required by law to remain neutral where religion is concerned.


“If the shirts had said ‘Brass Resurrections’ and had a picture of Jesus on the cross, we would have done the same thing,” he said.


Band parent Sherry Melby, who is a teacher in the district, stands behind Pollitt’s decision. Melby said she associated the image on the T-shirt with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.


“I was disappointed with the image on the shirt.” Melby said. “I don’t think evolution should be associated with our school.”



band shirt

Fig. 1.  TIGER SHAME! The offensive and now defunct tee shirt (photo courtesy of the Sedalia Democrat).

I can see a trend coming here:  evolution is said to be a “faith,” same as religion, and thus can’t be presented in the public schools.  Thanks, Michael Ruse!

Thanks to ERV for bringing this to my attention via her post.

NOTE:  erv (see comment below) notes that there is now an online poll about the appropriateness of the tee-shirt.  Go here to vote (right-hand column below the ads).

41 Comments

  1. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    That was so many levels of FAIL that my FAIL-safe detector burned out.

    [Wonder if Sedalia School District is also prepared to bear the cost of replacing that.]

    • Chase
      Posted September 2, 2009 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      yes, I am actually in this band and the school board payed us $700 to replace them.

  2. Posted August 30, 2009 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    “I was disappointed with the image on the shirt.” Melby said. “I don’t think evolution should be associated with our school.”

    Yeah, I’ve been thinking. I don’t think gravity should be associated with my house.

  3. Albert Yome
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Initially, I thought, “what a ridiculous bunch of rednecks” and was amused. Now I am saddened and angered by such levels of ignorance. What if religion starts challenging physics and chemistry? As Blackadder said, “He’s madder than Mad Jack McMad, winner of this year’s Mr Mad competition.

    • Posted August 30, 2009 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      What if religion starts challenging physics and chemistry?

      It already does.

      You have to reject all of modern science, including chemistry and physics, to accept the Bible as inerrant. In fact, most people have no idea just how much of ordinary common sense daily observations have to be disregarded to accept the Bible as anything more than a collection of cute fables.

      • Posted August 30, 2009 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

        that’s correct. Teaching *any* form of science is a violation of the first amendment, since all science proves religion false, as we all know becuase we’re fond of saying things like “epistemologically incompatible” and patting ourselves on the back for being so smart.

      • Vytautas
        Posted August 30, 2009 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

        Sorry Smijer. The description “epistemologically incompatible” is just fine…..

        “they successfully fought off a creationist legal attack in 1980, eliciting from the DC Circuit Court of Appeals the memorable ruling that the balance between freedom of religion and learning

        …was long ago struck in favor of diffusion of knowledge based on responsible scientific foundations, and against special constitutional protection of religious believers from the competition generated by such knowledge diffusion.”

        via Mayer.

      • JMM
        Posted March 2, 2010 at 11:48 am | Permalink

        These comments are wrong on so many levels. The Bible actually PROVES the laws of science that are correct. People should actually read to understand the Bible, and then they couldn’t make ridiculous comments like this.

        • David
          Posted March 3, 2010 at 10:14 am | Permalink

          Where does the Bible prove anything other than someone long ago chose (and not to general agreement) these writings to be a collection of writings as a basis for a system of belief?

  4. Posted August 30, 2009 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    facepalm.

    Ironically, this post followed your post about depression. :)

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted August 30, 2009 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      Yeah, and nobody’s gonna read the laboriously constructed depression post! I’m depressed . . . .

      • Posted August 30, 2009 at 11:16 am | Permalink

        I am! I’m already pondering the finer points of the depressed human curled up on the floor of the cave not eating and not humping. That’s bad enough, but what about depressed people who didn’t even have caves? Then you get a depressed person curled up in the mud being rained on and trampled by wildebeest while not eating and not humping. Things don’t look good

  5. newenglandbob
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Hitchens had it right: Religion Poisons Everything.

  6. Posted August 30, 2009 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    It is ironic; I just read this post which pointed out that the quality of high school (mathematics) education depends on much more than the skill of the teachers.
    Though I realize that some teachers are incompetent, much of the time competent teachers are being undermined by the parents of the students!

  7. Posted August 30, 2009 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Oh dear god…

  8. whyevolutionistrue
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Without knowing Jerry was working on this post, the legal answer to the question “Is science a religion, and therefore is a scientific statement a violation of religious neutrality?” (as this assistant school superintendent would have us believe), was answered in my museum post by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. There is no

    …special constitutional protection of religious believers from the competition generated by such [scientific] knowledge diffusion.

    GCM

  9. entertaining.doubts
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Irony: brass instruments (as with all technology) “evolved” at the hands of “intelligent designers.” Gee, if a trumpet looks designed, then we must be too! All praise Paley’s trumpetmaker! ;)

    • newenglandbob
      Posted August 30, 2009 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      Paley was just blowing his own horn. :)

  10. Toby
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    pollittb@sedalia.k12.mo.us

  11. robhoofd
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    “If the shirts had said ‘Brass Resurrections’ and had a picture of Jesus on the cross, we would have done the same thing,” he said.

    Anyone smell burning trousers?

  12. Bio613
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    I’ll buy one of the shirts – check payable to the band – I’m sure it’d be a welcome fundraiser for Mr. Kloppenburg and Mr. Summers’ efforts. Payable to the band – nothing to the wimpy district (officials) who pulled the shirts.

    • Christopher Gwyn
      Posted August 31, 2009 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

      I wrote off to them suggesting that they sell the shirts as a fund-raiser. I’ll mention it here and on Pharyngula if I get a positive response.

    • Chase
      Posted September 2, 2009 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      You can probably write a check payable to TIMPO our booster club.

  13. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Then you get a depressed person curled up in the mud being rained on and trampled by wildebeest while not eating and not humping. Things don’t look good

    What if they also had todays diseases but none of the remedies?

    Then you get a depressed person with toothache and rheumatism curled up in the mud being rained on and trampled by wildebeest while not eating and not humping. Things don’t look good at all.

    • Posted August 30, 2009 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

      Yeah and I forgot to mention the predators sniffing around the depressed person’s recumbent form. Things look horrendous!

    • Your Name's Not Bruce?
      Posted August 31, 2009 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      LUXURY!

      We used to DREAM of being curled up in the mud and being trampled by wildebeast while not eating and humping! Every morning we’d wake up, stare at the blackened, sodden mess that had been last month’s fire, fall off a cliff, go blind, get kicked by the neighbours, chewed on by hyenas, not eat, not hump, catch every disease known to humans and then get struck by lightning. Stumble “home” (uphill) to discover someone else in our mudhole.

  14. Posted August 30, 2009 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    ATTENTION: POLL CRASH!!!!

    Sedalia Democrat has a poll up now! Lower right panel:

    “Should the Sedalia school district have pulled the Smith-Cotton High School band T-shirts?
    Yes, the evolution image was inappropriate
    57%
    No, critics and the district are overreacting
    43%
    Total Votes: 199″

    199 votes, we can crash this :)

    • JefFlyingV
      Posted August 30, 2009 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

      I voted in the poll, the poll numbers are now flipped the other way. Would it be surprising if the MO school system has “the I Found It” campaign every spring?

  15. Posted August 30, 2009 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    Just want you to know that not all Christians are like that. Furthermore, I don’t believe that science necessarily proves the Bible false.

    Listen, I know you are sitting there right now thinking…what a dumb hick to join this conversation, but just hear me out. We are not all like the members of the community in question.

    I think it’s rather funny actually. You guys shouldn’t get so bent out of shape about this. If you really think you’ll win in the end, then this is just one minor bump. Right?

  16. Posted August 30, 2009 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    So now even the evolution of musical instruments is a “controversial” and “religious subject”?

    I understand there is a lot of controversy among geek electric bass players about the virtues of 4 string, 5 string, 6 string and fretless and Koa wood vs. graphite necks and Gallien-Kruger vs. Ampeg amp heads, but this is just ignint.

    And you can’t dance to it.

    • robhoofd
      Posted August 30, 2009 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

      If electric guitars come from acoustic guitars, how come there are still acoustic guitars?

      • JefFlyingV
        Posted August 30, 2009 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

        And if acoustic guitars came from lutes what does that say about lyres and harps?

      • newenglandbob
        Posted August 30, 2009 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

        If protestants come from catholic origins, why are there still catholics?

  17. Hempenstein
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    Very strange – so far as I can tell, none of these have appeared on eBay.

  18. Posted August 30, 2009 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Michael Ruse!

    Hold on there Dr. Coyne. Remember that you can be a darwinian and a christian, Ruse said so. It may have been to justify his insane logic on evolution’s religious status, but still…

  19. Divalent
    Posted August 30, 2009 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    Evolution expelled again.

    • Posted August 31, 2009 at 3:32 am | Permalink

      Some would say that the T-shirt had an intelligent design.

      So its actually intelligent design that is expelled again!
      Ha! Checkmate.

  20. Posted September 22, 2009 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    My name is riley millis and im a student at smith-cotton and frown upon the fact that someone made such ordeal about the “evolution of the band” t-shirt. I have recently been informed that if someone were to wear this shirt to school they would be susspended for the remainder of the day and asked not to wear the shirt again. Now i have seen many a t-shirt that that say “trust god”,”jesus loves you”, and “trust jesus”, and not one single student has been asked to remove themself from class and change thier t-shirt.

    • don
      Posted November 8, 2011 at 3:21 am | Permalink

      Riley, I know this is an old story from 2 years ago but I liked what you wrote. Evolution is a cornerstone of science and science allows for many of the improvements in medicine and human knowledge that we have benefited from over the years. Thank you for standing up and voicing your opinion. The school officials who removed these t-shirts should be ashamed of themselves.

  21. Cormac Kelly
    Posted October 3, 2009 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    How can I buy one of these t-shirts?

  22. don
    Posted November 8, 2011 at 3:16 am | Permalink

    Oh my god. Those upset parents should send their kids to a religious school if they are upset by the fact of evolution. The school officials who caved are playing to the religious right. Evolution is a verifiable fact that is accepted by every western nation except the U.S. Shame on the school, shame on this nation.


5 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] we are up against The sad fact that many of the parents are morons: A band at Smith-Cotton High School in Sedalia, Missouri had the cute idea of wearing tee shirts [...]

  2. [...] Affe-wird-zu-Mensch-Evolutions-T-Shirt, um für ihre Konzerte zu werben. Das hat der Schulleitung nicht gefallen und sie hat das Tragen des T-Shirts verboten. Grund: Es verletze die weltanschauliche [...]

  3. [...] Evolution Because it Violates Religious Neutrality August 30, 2009 — Jim Story via Why Evolution Is True via [...]

  4. [...] ERV and Coyne, I've learned that there was a poll associated with that story about the yanked evolution shirts [...]

  5. [...] the recent “brass evolution” tee-shirt kerfuffle at Smith-Cotton High School in Sedalia, Missouri. How might that relate to the concept of identity [...]

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