by Greg Mayer
Michael Zimmerman, of the Clergy Letter Project, has written a piece at the Huffington Post attacking the Tennessee creationism bill, and earlier wrote there in support of an attempt to repeal a similar, already enacted, statute in Louisiana. Zimmerman stresses the importance of bringing the weight of scientists’ and teachers’ expertise to bear during the legislative process. This is, of course, a good thing. Jerry has noted Zimmerman’s failure to mention the impetus for the legislation: religion. Zimmerman refers to the legislation as promoting a “political rather than a scientific perspective”, and that’s true; but much more importantly, in understanding it’s context and legality, is that it’s promoting a religious perspective.
This is crucially important for an additional reason, not mentioned by Jerry, which is that the judicial (as opposed to the legislative) fight against creationism is based on the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Tennessee law seeks not just to promote bad science, or politicized science, but religion. This is crucial because bad or politicized science is not unconstitutional: it is merely unwise. In the legislative branch, both the argument against the wisdom of the legislation and its unconstitutionality can be used. But in court, there’s nothing unconstitutional (in general) about bad legislation; and while a judge might find a law to fly in the face of the facts, there’s nothing in the Constitution to bar the enactment of bad science. Such laws are struck down because they seek to establish a religion, which is unconstitutional.
I am familiar with only a very small part of Michael Zimmerman’s writings, and perhaps he does recognize that the “bad science” argument against creationism is at best incomplete. But I believe it’s crucially important to always have the establishment clause ready to hand.