Two Republican governors expressed support for the teaching of neo-creationism—intelligent design—in public schools in the past two weeks.
"What is wrong with teaching 'intelligent design' in our schools?" asked Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R.-Ky.), at the end of his state of the commonwealth address.
A lay Baptist preacher, Fletcher said: "Our school districts have that freedom and I encourage them to do so. This is not a question about faith or religion. It's about self-evident truth."
Gov. Rick Perry (R.-Texas) said a few days earlier that intelligent design should be taught with the theory of evolution in public schools, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Perry "supports the teaching of the theory of intelligent design," said his spokeswoman Kathy Walt. "Texas schools teach the theory of evolution; intelligent design is a valid scientific theory, and he believes it should be taught as well."
When asked if he believed in the theory of evolution in late December, Gov. Jeb Bush (R.-Fla.) said: "Yeah, but I don't think it should actually be part of the curriculum, to be honest with you. And people have different points of view and they can be discussed at school, but it does not need to be in the curriculum," according to the Miami Herald.
The Orlando Sentinel reported that Bush favored a "vigorous discussion of varying viewpoints in our classrooms," a page out of the intelligent design playbook.
Intelligent design proponents argue that science classes should present different viewpoints or have a balanced approach, as if the science of evolution and neo-creationism were on the same par. Of course, their goal is to elbow neo-creationism into a position of equal status with the theory of evolution in public schools. If they accomplish this goal, science gets watered down and religion gets taught.
At the beginning of the 2006 state legislative sessions, supporters of authentic faith and good science in public schools should find the Republican governors' agenda disturbing.
If the problem were only Fletcher, Perry and Bush, then centrist Baptists, mainline Protestants and other people of faith might see these commitments as isolated.
Unfortunately, teaching creationism in public schools looks like a plank in the Republican governors' association.
According to the Kansas City Star, Gov. Matt Blunt (R.-Mo.), a Southern Baptist, said, "I believe evolution is a theory, and there are other acceptable theories to explain the creation of Earth and the creation of man."
Gov. Mark Sanford (R.-S.C.) told The State: "I don't have a problem with it [intelligent design] being taught. Creationism. I've read creationism. I'm still able to look at evolution. I feel comfortable looking at both…I don't have a problem with both being taught."
Gov. Mike Huckabee (R.-Ark.) said on MSNBC that students should "have an understanding that there are a lot of points of view as to how the world began."
The former Southern Baptist preacher and graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary advocated the teaching of "many points of view." He said, "Nobody actually knows what happened and we can't prove any of them [theories of earth's beginnings]."
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported two years ago that in the debate over evolution in science curriculum Gov. Sonny Perdue (R.-Ga.) said, "I think we need to have academic freedom, but we need academic balance as well."
These Republican governors stand at odds with John E. Jones, a federal judge appointed by President Bush, who ruled in a Pennsylvania case that teaching intelligent design in science classes was unconstitutional.
"The overwhelming evidence at the trail established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, not a scientific theory," said Jones.
"While supernatural explanations may be important and have merit, they are not part of science," he said.
A Republican-appointed judge has the wisdom and position to speak forthrightly, something that Republican governors are unable to do, due to hardwiring between the Republican Party and the religious right.
As long as Republican governors pander to the religious right public schools are at risk to bad science and state-sponsored religion.
To counter this risk, we need centrist preachers and public educators to speak up for schools free from watered-down science and polluted religion.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.