The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, through its Institute for Public Affairs, joined with the Christian Legal Society in filing a friend of the court brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The brief was filed in support of the Tangipahoa Parish Board of Educations decision to have a disclaimer read prior to the teaching of the theory of evolution in its schools.
The disclaimer at issue states, in part: It is hereby recognized by the Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education that the lesson to be presented is known as the Scientific Theory of Evolution and should be presented to inform students of the scientific concept and not intended to influence or dissuade the Biblical version of Creation. It is further recognized that it is the basic right and privilege of each student to form his/her own opinion or maintain beliefs taught by parents on this important matter of the origin of life Students are urged to exercise critical thinking and gather all information possible and examine each alternative toward forming an opinion.
A federal judge in Louisiana struck down the school board’s enactment of this disclaimer on the grounds that it violates the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court in Lemon v. Kurtzman. The lower court stated that it could find no legitimate secular purpose in the school boards promulgation of the disclaimer and thus unconstitutional.
The IPA-CLS brief submitted to the federal appellate court contends that the sole purpose of the disclaimer is not to advance religion. The plain meaning of the disclaimer clearly indicates that the school board is not advancing a religious understanding of the origins of the universe, but clearly stating that the teaching of the scientific theory of evolution is not the only way to approach that issue and that students should not view their school as necessarily contending with the teachings of their parents or clergymen. IPA director Nathan Diament stated that “it is critical that we fight for the principle that the Constitution does not require hostility toward religion; this brief does that.”