California fundamentalist Christians finished presenting their case today after calling only two witnesses, thus dropping their own broad attach on the teaching of evolution in public schools, but still hoping that the judging will give them a victory on far narrower issues of religious freedom.
The plaintiffs left behind the issues of whether creationism should be taught in public schools and whether evolution is the only scientifically valid theory of creation, and instead began to pore over textbooks and the state guidelines for teaching science to determine whether they were "too dogmatic" or insensitive in their wording, and thus might violate the freedom of fundamentalist Christian children to believe what they want.
The defense, now forced to abandon its plan to call astronomer Carl Sagan and about 20 other scientists and scholars, instead began to show that the textbooks and state guidelines, in specific statements and suggestions to teachers, take care to avoid offending believers in the Biblical story of creation.
The defense introduced one elementary school textbook entitled Exploring Living Things, which contains a presentation of creationism that fundamentalists Kelly Segraves, a plaintiff, found acceptable and not dogmatic. "Besides the evolution theories," the text reads, "there are other theories that explain the many different kinds of organisms on earth today." The book goes on to present the creationist view.
The defense also called one of the writers of state's "science framework," used as guideline for teachers, curriculum and the adoption of science textbooks.
Dr. Thomas Jukes, professor of molecular biology at the University of California at Berkeley, testified that when he wrote the framework, the language was framed or softened in several cases to assure that it did not offend creationists. He added that the document was approved by a former vice chairman of the California Board of Education, who is a creationist.
If the defense can convince the judge that the state already is sensitive to the beliefs of creationists in its textbooks and frameworks, then the judge will be forced to rule that the Segraves Family, especially the three children attending public schools, have not had their First Amendment rights to religious freedom violated.
If the judge rules in favor of the Segraves on the narrow issue of religious freedom, he then must determine how to "accommodate" the plaintiffs, either by changing a few words in the science framework, as the plaintiffs now seem to be asking for, or finding some other way of assuring them that creationists' beliefs will no longer be violated.
Until late Tuesday, both the judge and the defense were prepared to state a major trial in which the creationists were seeking to show that evolution is not the only credible scientific theory of the origin of man, and that creationism, being scientifically plausible, also should be taught in public schools.
"I thought you wanted scientific creationism taught in the schools. That is what you led us to believe in your complaint," a somewhat puzzled and irritated Judge Irving Perluss told the lawyer for the creationists on Tuesday, and again in only slightly different words today.
"I wonder if this case of great and important constitutional issues has evolved, if you will pardon the pun, and come down to a question of semantics. If that is what this case is now all about, then it seems to me we're wasting an awful lot of time."
Segraves, a religious educator, director of the Christian Science Research Institute and instigator of the suit, said he would settle for a change in the science teacher's instruction book that would qualify evolutionary pronouncements with words similar to "most scientists believe," or "scientists hypothesize."
"We have not backed down," said Richard Turner, lawyer for the fundamentalists. "If we get these changes that will preclude teachers from having authority of the state behind them when they go into class and say, 'Kids, here is how we got here. We all came from a common ancestor.' If they do say things like that, we can go and bitch about it."
Asked why he was withdrawing previous demands so suddenly, he said, "when people file a suit in a fenderbender case, they ask for a million bucks. They don't really expect to get it. They end up settling for a few thousand. That is what has happened here."
Segraves said he thought a change of two or three words in the instruction manual would be a victory for creationists for several reasons. First, he said, it would mean the judge had declared that the religious rights of "Christian children" had been violated by the teaching of evolution in the public schools.
He said they also have won admissions in court that the framework is no more than a guideline, "so that would give us, in effect, a wide-open school system. Teachers could teach the way they want."