Battle Against Teaching Evolution in Texas Begins

Should creationism win out, textbooks throughout the country–not just Texas–will challenge the theory of evolution in science curricula

A few weeks before the March 4 Republican primary, a group of candidates gathered at the Shady Valley Golf Club in Arlington for a meet-and-greet luncheon with voters. For the most part, the candidates were seasoned pros who all seemed to know each other, but one stood out from the rest.

His name was Barney Maddox, and he looked lost. He wore an ill-fitting gray suit, his Coke-bottle glasses kept slipping down his nose, and he looked as if he cut his own hair. While the other candidates worked the room, Maddox wandered around, looking for a hand to shake. Eventually, he ended up at a table overlooking the golf course, where he sat alone, waiting for the event to begin.

Not much was known about Maddox, because he did not grant interviews to the press. He had, however, been identified as perhaps the most dangerous man on the ballot by the Texas Freedom Network, a watchdog group in Austin that keeps tabs on the religious right.

The reasons for this were clear. Maddox was a young-Earth creationist, a Bible-literalist who believed the Earth was just 6,000 years old. He had written part of the curriculum for the Institute of Creation Research, a Dallas-based school that offers courses in creation science, and he had lectured at the Creation Evidence Museum in Glen Rose, which claims to have fossil evidence that dinosaurs and man walked together. He had once called evolution "the most irrational belief ever held by man." Now he wanted a seat on Texas' State Board of Education.

His opponent, Pat Hardy, sat across the room. Fair-skinned and tall, with short red hair, she carried herself with the cheerful demeanor of a former school teacher, which she had been for 30 years. Social studies had been her subject, and truth be told, she missed the classroom. For the last six years she had served on the State Board of Education and was running for re-election. Hardy believed God had created the Earth, but she wasn't sure this belonged in the classroom. It was no secret this had made her the target of the religious right.

When their turns came to speak, Hardy went first, pointing out that she had 36 years in education and that as a member of the state board she had lead an effort to require that all high school students take four years of science before graduation. She considered this her proudest accomplishment on the board.

When she finished, Maddox stepped to the microphone. He said nothing of his experience in education, because he had none. Nor did he have any experience in politics. What he had to offer were true conservative credentials, he said, and if elected he would have something to say about the teaching of evolution, which he called "a pre-Civil War fairy tale." The candidates took a few questions from the audience, and when they were done, Maddox slipped out the door.

Over the next several weeks, Maddox ran a quiet campaign, avoiding events where the press might show up and ignoring their phone calls. While Hardy was relying on the mainstream press and the education establishment to get elected, Maddox was courting a different stripe of voters. He had the backing of the state home-school association, social conservative groups such as the Plano-based Free Market Foundation and people like former State Board of Education member Richard Neill, who, before serving as Maddox's campaign treasurer, had once endorsed a candidate who wanted to dismantle the public education system and replace it with private Christian schools.

Two weeks ago, while the rest of the state was watching the results of the Democratic presidential primary, Hardy quietly defeated Maddox. Had Maddox won, a movement more than 10 years in the making—a religious right takeover of the State Board of Education—would have been complete.

Already, the board is dominated by a far-right faction deeply concerned with promoting political and religious ideologies. In recent years, the board has rejected one textbook that taught about global warming—calling it "junk science" and "anti-capitalist"—and forced the publisher of another to replace a picture of a woman carrying a briefcase with a picture of a woman baking a cake. Board member Terri Leo has accused "liberal New York publishers" of inserting "stealth" homosexual messages into textbooks, and Republican David Bradley of Beaumont, the de facto leader of the far-right faction, once criticized an algebra book because it had pictures, recipes and references to Vietnam in it he considered inappropriate for the subject matter. Knowing that legally he could not reject a book on these grounds, he ripped the cover off. "Ladies and gentlemen," he said, tossing pieces of the cover to both sides of his chair, "worthless binding. I reject this book."

All of which is a prelude to the looming battle over the science curriculum, which is up for review in November. Seven of the 15 board members support the teaching of creationism or intelligent design. With Maddox, they would have had a clear majority.

But even without Maddox the fight for control of the state board is far from over. And the battle over the teaching of evolution is just getting started.

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