The Rev. Jerry Falwell has boasted publicly that a recent action by a Virginia State Board of Education committee would enable graduates of his Liberty Baptist College to teach biblical creationism in the public classrooms.
Falwell's comments, first made in a television sermon last month and repeated this week in an interview with The Washington Post, follow a controversial vote by a state panel giving preliminary approval to Liberty Baptist's request to have its biology graduates certified as teachers in Virginia public schools.
"So now we, with God's help, want to see hundreds of our graduates go out into the classrooms teaching creationism," Falwell said, according to a transcript of the nationwide television sermon.
"Of course, they'll be teaching evolution," he added. "But teaching why it's invalid and why it's foolish, and then showing the proper way and correct approach to the origin of the species."
While efforts by fundamentalists to legislate the teaching of creationism have been stymied in other states, Falwell said in a telephone interview that it would be a milestone for the creationist cause if the Virginia board approves Liberty Baptist's request.
"It would give Virginia the distinction of being the first state to commit itself to academic freedom and fairness in the area of the origin of the species," he said.
These and other recent comments made by Falwell are likely to fuel a growing debate among Virginia educators over the certification of Liberty Baptist graduates to teach in Virginia's public schools--a debate that parallels the national controversy over the teaching of creationism in public schools. A 17-member Board of Education teachers advisory committee is scheduled to hear the Liberty Baptist issue again here Friday.
The American Civil Liberties Union asked today that the board postpone any action on Liberty Baptist, charging that creationism is little more than a religious doctrine that has no place in the public classroom.
"This is a church-state issue," said Chan Kendrick, director of the state ACLU. "If the state board approves the program, it's a signal to every local school board in the state that it's okay to hire teachers to teach creationism and I equate that with teaching the Bible."
More significantly, perhaps, are new questions as to whether Liberty Baptist may have misled the board about the nature of its science program. A small Christian college in Lynchburg, Va., headed by Falwell, Liberty Baptist proclaims itself in its catalogue to be a "miracle school." One of its stated purposes is to teach "the scientific basis" for the Biblical account of the origin of man.
When a state board of education teachers visiting committee met on April 8 to consider Liberty Baptist's request for certification of its science program, school representatives insisted that the college met basic state standards that require courses in biology, earth science and general science.
While acknowledging that creationism was a part of the school's curriculum, Liberty Baptist professors told the committee that the school also taught standard evolutionary biology.
"We are going to give both sides of this important question on the origin of life an equal hearing," Dr. Terry Weaver, chairman of the school's biology department, told the committee. However, in the interview this week, Falwell appeared to give a different account of the Liberty Baptist curriculum.
"We give our opinion at Liberty Baptist in the same way that evolutionists give their opinion," he said. "We are teaching evolution on an equal basis. . . but there's not a student at the college who doesn't know where we stand and that's why they came here. The young people clearly are committed to the creation concept."
Falwell also charged that the ACLU's criticism of Liberty Baptist was part of a nationwide campaign by a "secular humanist" religious group, which he said was located in Buffalo.
"The ACLU continually violates the separation of church and state," said Falwell. "They want only secular humanism to be taught in the public schools."
Falwell's comment about Buffalo was apparently a reference to the American Humanist Association, a small group located in Amherst, a Buffalo suburb, that publishes the The Humanist magazine, with a circulation of 12,000. ACLU director Kendrick said he never heard of the organization.
The April 8 vote by a state board committee regarding Liberty Baptist was only the first of three hurdles the school must clear before its graduates are formally certified as Virginia teachers. The teachers advisory committee meeting Friday must approve the recommendation and then submit it to the full Board of Education, which is scheduled to consider the issue on July 28 and 29.