Staff members at the University of California-Berkeley are being sued in court over a pro-evolution Web site, hosted by the schools science program, that ridicules religious denominations that do not agree with evolution.
The Pacific Justice Institute, a religious liberties group, claims that the Web site which was designed with $500,000 in federal backing endorses religious views that support evolution while deriding those that do not, thus constituting an illegal and public endorsement of religion by the university.
The group also points to parts of the site that feature pro-evolution religious denominations alongside faiths that the site says adhere to creationism and "explicitly contradict science.
In another section on the Web site, teachers are informed to consider all objections by students to evolution as different from legitimate inquiry and disrupt[ions] to the learning process.
"Whatever one's views on the origin of life or the theory of evolution, it is completely inappropriate for the government to declare that some religious denominations are better than others, explained PJI Chief Counsel Kevin Snider, in a statement. The Supreme Court has long held that government must not decree what is orthodox in religion, and we are seeking to hold UC Berkeley to that standard.
Roy Caldwell, who is among the professors being sued by PJI, denied the assertion, arguing that the site simply made facts available to users.
"Basically, what we have is a page that deals with the misconceptions and challenges to the teaching of evolution, and we provided resources to teachers to answer them, he told UC Berkeley news. One of those questions is, 'Aren't religion and evolution incompatible?' And we say, 'no,' and point to a number of sites by clerics and others who make that point.
PJI President Brad Davis emphasized that the case was a clear situation of viewpoint discrimination.
Government actions that demean a group's faith clearly express state hostility toward religion and must be contested, he said.
The lawsuit, which was originally filed by PJI in 2005 and dismissed because of what judges said was a lack in standing, will be reviewed this week by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
On the Web: evolution.berkeley.edu