"...the Supreme Court decision...does not make any board declaration
about governmental neutrality toward religion in general (and vice versa), which is the basis for a secular society...."
Brad Taylor (“Heed what JFK said about church and state,” Jan. 9) misconstrues the intent of Epperson v. Arkansas and may mislead the reader to believe that secularism is the legislated way in our land.
The quote he uses, when read in the full context of the Supreme Court decision (accessible at FindLaw.com), does not make any board declaration about governmental neutrality toward religion in general (and vice versa), which is the basis for a secular society – and for Mr. Taylor’s argument. The ruling in this case applies narrowly to First Amendment rights and Fourteenth Amendment protections as they apply to teaching the theory of evolution in public schools.
The 1968 case considered a complaint brought by Susan Epperson, a 10th grade biology teacher in Little Rock, Arkansas, who supposed that she might lose her job if she taught evolution in her classroom. A law that had been passed in Arkansas by voter referendum in 1928 (following the Scopes “monkey trial” in Tennessee) prohibited any public school in the state from teaching evolution. (The law hadn’t been enforced in the 40 years it existed.)
The Supreme Court opinion on the situation concludes: “The law's effort was confined to an attempt to blot out a particular theory because of its supposed conflict with the Biblical account, literally read. Plainly, the law is contrary to the mandate of the First, and in violation of the Fourteenth, Amendment to the Constitution.”
The last sentence of the quote cited from the context of the opinion by Mr. Taylor reads: “The First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.” The opinion expounds on this thought to explain that the state of Arkansas was found to be in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because it favored the fundamentalist religious view of creationism over any other religious view of the origin of man; and, secondly, that the state law violated the Fourteenth Amendment because it interfered with the teacher’s right to teach, and the students’ right to learn, the nonreligions theory of evolution.
Nancy E. Thoerig