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Texas Jewish Leaders Fight for Students’ First Amendment Rights

Contact: Kate Bigam or Arielle Gingold
202.387.2800 | news@rac.org

AUSTIN, TX, Nov. 20, 2008 – Three Reform Jewish leaders testified yesterday before the Texas State Board of Education on proposed revisions to the state’s science curriculum.

Advocating for students’ First Amendment rights, the rabbis opposed the state education curriculum that require the teaching of creationism/ intelligent design in science classes. The current curriculum requires the teaching of the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories. Although the first proposed change would have struck that language entirely, ensuring that only pure science is taught, the most recent proposal simply substitutes “limitations” for “weaknesses.” The Board is scheduled to vote on this issue in January.

Excerpts from the rabbis’ testimony are below. 

Rabbi Ana Bonnheim, Assistant Director for Education at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Greene Family Camp, said:

“On the surface, teaching about the ‘strengths and limitations of scientific explanations’… may not seem like teaching religious beliefs. Yet…When science teachers answer questions about evolution and origins of life by pointing to the divine or supernatural, they are incorporating religion into science classrooms.

“For me as a rabbi, science and religion are not at odds … Moses Maimonides … who is perhaps the greatest philosopher of our tradition, was also a physician. He taught that scientific inquiry can lead to more thoughtful religious questions and better educated religious individuals. The place for the quiet discussions about spirituality in science is not in public schools but around the kitchen table, in religious school classrooms, or in a clergy member’s office.

“Sadly and painfully, my Jewish ancestors had a long history of persecution in places where there was no separation of church and state. When we permit religious beliefs to be taught in our state schools, we begin to blur the line that keeps religion and government separate. We are so fortunate to live in a country that respects individuals of all faiths. It is essential to maintain the boundaries that will protect religious groups of every faith.”

Rabbi Nancy Kasten, of Dallas, said:

“Jewish tradition teaches that we serve God through a never-ending process of asking questions and making discoveries about our world … Studying the world using the tools of scientific method…and forming and testing hypotheses, is the way that scientists formulated our current understanding of evolution. This understanding does not conflict with the Jewish view of Creation. While there are still things to discover about how life evolved and continues to evolve, the questions that challenge current understandings are part of the scientific process itself, and should not be categorized as ‘strengths and limitations’ in the interest of raising doubt about widely accepted scientific method and promoting specific religious views.”

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, said:

“I strongly oppose the revised version where the strengths and limitations of scientific explanations could be evaluated. It seems to me that discussing the limitations of widely accepted, sound scientific theories, such as the theory of gravity, the theory of relativity, or the theory of evolution would take up valuable class time that could be better spent ensuring that our children receive the best scientific education at a time when our country is falling behind the rest of the world in scientific achievement….

For more information about the Reform Jewish Movement’s opposition to the teaching of intelligent design and creationism in public schools please see http://rac.org/advocacy/issues/creationism/ or contact the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism at rac@rac.org or 202-387-2800.



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