Long after the 1920s, when battles over evolution versus creationism raged in legislatures and courts across the country, the Indiana Civil Liberties Union (ICLU) won an important First Amendment victory against teaching creationism in public schools. An ICLU case in 1977, Hendren v. Campbell, ended with a ruling that a public school's use of a textbook about creationism was unconstitutional. "The question is whether a text obviously designed to present only the view of Biblical Creationism in a favorable light is constitutionally acceptable in the public schools of Indiana. Two hundred years of constitutional government demand that the answer be no," wrote the judge.
The First Amendment includes two complementary protections — the right to religious belief and expression, and a guarantee that government not show preference to one faith over another.
Public entities, including schools, must constantly work to balance the right to religious belief and expression with the guarantee of the First Amendment that government not show preference to one faith over another.
For example, the First Amendment's guarantee of a right to free expression allows a student to pray during a moment of silence, but schools cannot force students to pray during these silent moments or at any other time.
Public school curriculum must always serve a secular educational purpose. The examination of religion's role in history, art, literature, society or other secular subjects can fall within that purpose. However, such teaching must take place in an objective, unbiased manner, and may not promote or criticize any particular religion or set of beliefs.
Applying religious liberty principles in a pluralistic society made up of various religious beliefs and preferences is not always easy. It's our job at the ACLU of Indiana to protect the rights that are guaranteed to everyone.