Lawsuit Over UC Berkeley's 'Evolution' Website Appealed to Supreme Court

A Christian schoolteacher's lawsuit over a UC Berkeley website on evolution has been appealed to the Supreme Court.

Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute, which is representing Jeanne Caldwell, a Sacramento parent, announced in January that it had filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court after a lower court's dismissal of the case was upheld last fall.

Caldwell alleges that the federally-funded website on evolution by the University of California, Berkeley, pushed a specific viewpoint on religious doctrine in violation of the separation of church and state.

The website, "Understanding Evolution," was created by the California school in conjunction with the National Center of Science Education.

Caldwell took issue with one web page titled "Misconception: 'Evolution and Religion are Incompatible,'" in which the university gives K-12 teachers suggested responses to students in their classroom who ask whether evolution is inconsistent with their personal religious beliefs.

The response reads: "Religion and science (evolution) are very different things. In science (as in science class), only natural causes are used to explain natural phenomena, while religion deals with beliefs that are beyond the natural world."

"The misconception that one always has to choose between science and religion is incorrect. Of course, some religious beliefs explicitly contradict science (e.g., the belief that the world and all life on it was created in six literal days); however, most religious groups have no conflict with the theory of evolution or other scientific findings. In fact, many religious people, including theologians, feel that a deeper understanding of nature actually enriches their faith. Moreover, in the scientific community there are thousands of scientists who are devoutly religious and also accept evolution," the page states.

The page also contains a link to the National Center of Science Education Web page that features statements from religious organizations - including General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA, Roman Catholic Church and United Methodist Church - in support of evolution.

The lawsuit filed in 2005 claimed the web page and link amounted to an endorsement of certain religious viewpoints, violating the Establishment Clause. The suit asked for an injunction against the website, which cost $500,000 to make, and declaration that the site was unconstitutional, like a cross in a public park would be.

"There are many different religious views about evolution. How dare the government tell students which religious view is correct," stated Caldwell, who has a literal view of the Bible, in a 2005 press release announcing the lawsuit. "This is propaganda, not education."

Before Caldwell sued, the second paragraph of the "Misconceptions" response originally began with: "The misconception that one has to choose between science and religion is divisive. Most Christian and Jewish religious groups have no conflict with the theory of evolution or other scientific findings." UC Berkeley revised the response after the suit was filed.

The University of California joined the case this week, countering in its response that the Internet is not like a park and calling into question Caldwell's eligibility to sue, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

In 2006, a District court dismissed the case based on Caldwell's lack of standing to bring action. She appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit but the court upheld the lower court's decision in a ruling last October. The District Court didn't rule on the constitutionality of the website.

Caldwell contends that if the lower court's rulings are allowed to stand, government websites would become "an Establishment Clause free zone," according to the Chronicle.