The State of California has established its own religion akin to atheism and is depriving Christians of their right to believe in the biblical story of Creation, an attorney charged today in the opening of the California evolution trial.
"The real issue in this case is religious freedom under the First Amendment to the Constitution," said Richard K. Turner in his short opening statement. Beside him stood his Baptist client, Kelly Segraves, who sued the State Board of Education to force the state to rewrite its guidelines for teaching science so the guidelines would include Creationist and other theories as scientific alternates to evolution.
Turner said he would show that "the State of California is hostile to religion, and thereby in effect establishes a religion."
Fundamentalists have maintained for some years that the absence of religious teaching in schools amounts to the triumph of a competing religion, which they call either "secular humanism" or "atheism."
Segraves, a tall, huskily-built man with wavy blond hair and blue eyes, is a religious educator and part-time baseball coach in his home town of San Diego. With him in court was his son, Kasey, 13, who is to testify about what he has been taught in science classes in San Diego's public schools.
Turner went on to argue that Califorina science teaching violates both parts of the First Amendment: the part that prohibits the state from establishing a religion and the part that forbids the state from denying or "burdening" a citizen's right to believe in a religion, popular or not.
Turner attacked the state's guidelines for "science framework," which devotes five pages to a discription of evolution, without mentioning Creationism as a possible scientific alternate.
"We name specific parts of that document which are dogmatic, and which state that man evolved from a common ancestor billions of years ago, in effect, that God did not create man as man on earth. . . . A desperate conflict is created in young and impressionable children when the state tells them in effect that their beliefs are wrong," Turner said.
"We will show that Mr. Segraves and his three children hold mainstream Christian religious beliefs . . ., specifically that God created man as man, not as an amoedb, not a gila monster. This isn't a reoadshow for Christianity," Tyler said, adding, "There are other faiths taht believe" the same.
The state, defended by Deputy Attorney General Robert F. Tyler, promptly asked Sacramento Superior Court Judge Irving H. Perluss to dismiss the suit, but Perluss denied the motion.
"The court views this case as a classic [example] of the tension between the establishment' [of a state religion] clause on the one hand, and the 'free exercise' clause on the other hand," of the First Amendment of the Constitution the judge told Tyler.
Tyler argued tht the plaintiff was evading the issue in his opening argument, and "was postulating a religion . . . of secular humanism. In the common parlance there is no such thing."
He said that secular humanism is not a religion but a description of the way some individuals believe, and that "a secular humanist takes a neutral stand toward religon. Science takes a neutral stand toward religion. . . . There is a difference between being areligious and irreligious."
"If one teaches science, then that is what one should talk about. These people are going to have to show that they have a scientific theory" in order to have their ideas mentoned in state policy on the teaching of science, Tyler argued. "Swithout proof of that fact, their complaint must fall.
Among the spectators at today's session was Robert Kofahl, a short, red-haired man who serves as science adviser to Segraves's Creation-Science Research Center. Kofahl received a PhD in chemistry from Caltech in 1954 and has been teaching religion and Creationism ever since in Bible schools.
Kofahl said the two sides in the case nearly reached an out-of-court settlement that would have added four lines to the state guidelines. It would have said that evolution is only a theory, that there are other theories, and that any that could be supported by scientific data should be taught, he said.
"Creationism is supported by the same data that evolution is. It's just that we interpret it differently," Kofahl said, so under the proposed agreement Creationism could have been taught in public school science classes. a
But the state Board of Education unanimously voted against the compromise, he said.