Christine Comer was the Director of Science for the Texas Education Agency. In November of 2007, she was forced out for not remaining neutral on the subject of creationism. What was her crime? She forwarded an email (with the subject header “FYI”) informing staff of an upcoming talk by Barbara Forrest on the subject of ID/Creationism. “FYI” was Comer’s total contribution to the email; she added nothing else. Comer filed suit in June of 2008, arguing that the TEA’s neutrality policy is a violation of the 1st Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The lawsuit was dismissed in March 2009, but Comer appealed the decision. Oral arguments for her appeal were heard in April 2010. On July 2nd, 2010 the Fifth Circuit court handed down its decision, affirming and upholding the decision of the lower court.
Writing for a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit, Fortunato Benavides stated, “…we cannot conclude that TEA’s neutrality policy has the ‘primary effect’ of advancing religion…”
To be sure, Ms. Comer was set up to fail. TEA are state employees working in a support role for the Texas State Board of Education. As such they would have no direct influence on curriculum in the sense of being empowered to make decisions either for or against a particular viewpoint. The requirement for neutrality, therefore, would seem to be unnecessary. Commenting on Ms. Comer’s termination in an article for the NCSE, Barbara Forrest states:
“since my Austin talk was about the intelligent design creationist movement, one wonders why TEA would even want to remain “neutral” concerning the ID movement’s goal of undermining the integrity of science education in the very public schools that TEA should be protecting from that movement’s efforts.”
Yes, one wonders indeed. But if the TEA was going to ensure that the work of the religiously biased and anti-science TSBOE was to go forward unimpeded and unquestioned, there had to be 100% religious loyalty among its members. As a loyalty oath to creationism would be a direct violation of the Constitution, the TEA came up with a more sinister and possibly foolproof alternative – to require a seemingly harmless “neutrality” in regards to the teaching of creationism vs. science.
In their poorly supported and pathetically short 12 page decision (which took two months to write), the three-judge panel demonstrated an alarming lack of judicial curiosity and/or willingness to scratch beneath the surface in order to uncover the truth. By “the truth”, I mean the fact that Texas creationists in the TEA had knowingly and intentionally designed and implemented a cleverly disguised religious loyalty requirement for state employees. Had Judge John E. Jones III of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District fame shown such apathy towards uncovering the truth, his decision might well have read very differently than the one he ultimately issued in favor of the plaintiffs.
It becomes more apparent with each passing day that Texas may be a lost cause. Like a gangrenous limb, it leeches valuable and finite pro-evolution and science education resources while poisoning the rest of the nation with its idiocy. Perhaps we should give Texans what they want. While we are letting the idiots run amuck in their own backyard, we can institute regulations and laws in other states that invalidate the Texas curriculum and make it impossible for Texan students to transfer to out-of-state high schools, colleges and universities without special remedial classes to undo the damage done by having a Texan “education”. I’m in favor of making Texan high school transcripts and diplomas virtually worthless outside of their state. If they wish to revert to the dark ages, that is their prerogative, but the rest of the country doesn’t have to be dragged down with them. We may not be able to fight them and win head-on, but with some imaginative and forceful legislating in other states, we can sure as hell contain the cancer that is Texan education.