‘Just another theory’

Christian educators seek to spread their faith in Jefferson County Public Schools

A new group of Christian educators in Louisville conducted a unique training session for Jefferson County Public Schools teachers last Thursday inside the auditorium of The Gheens Academy for Curricular Excellence and Instructional Leadership. The group’s ultimate goal: spreading their faith to public school students.

The Louisville Area Christian Educator Support (LACES) organization is lead by current and former JCPS administrators and teachers who claim they must break through the godless, secular barriers of public schools to witness for Jesus Christ and evangelize to lost souls.

Last week’s kickoff meeting for LACES served as a strategy session for the 150 attendees, with organizers sharing ways to spread the good word at work without breaking the rules laid down by separation of church and state — and Kentucky law.

While the event wasn’t sanctioned by JCPS — LACES rented out the space — speakers included Kirk Lattimore, assistant superintendent for academic achievement, and Bryce Hibbard, Southern High School principal.

Hibbard and other speakers told the teachers present that it was perfectly acceptable under Kentucky law to teach biblical creationism in addition to evolution in science classes, and he suggested future meetings with biology teachers to craft curriculum.

“I taught biology for 20 years in this state and didn’t know that if evolution is part of the curriculum, that I could have been teaching creation,” Hibbard said. “I thought I was sneaky if I had the kids … present it. So it was presented in my classroom by the kids, but I could have been doing it and didn’t know that.”

But not everyone shares this belief that students can be taught the Days of Creation straight out of the Bible, including the ACLU of Kentucky and Hibbard’s own boss, JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens.

Addressing a common theme of the night — the kids who aren’t taken to church, and therefore “have no hope” — Hibbard told the crowd they should be missionaries to students, planting the seed of Christ.

“We’re in the greatest mission field,” Hibbard said. “At one point I was told, ‘You should be a youth minister,’ and someone said, ‘No, you’re in the greatest mission field there is, stay in the public school.’”

During his presentation, Hibbard noted the black wristbands handed out at the door reading “THIRD” — meaning Jesus first, others second, yourself third — hoping that students will inquire about its meaning, providing teachers a legal clearing to talk about God.

Roger Dillon — director of the statewide Christian Educators Association — gave a pop quiz to the crowd on what Christian practices are allowed in the classroom, instilling his belief that contrary to common perceptions, teachers and students have more legal protections for their religious freedom than secular restrictions.

“It is not true that in science classes you’re not allowed to talk about creation or intelligent design,” Dillon said.

JCPS Assistant Superintendent Lattimore sought input from the teachers in the crowd on common obstacles to expressing their religious views at work. The answers included “parental intimidation,” “resistance from kids,” “other religions in the classroom,” “people have bought into the media’s anti-Christian agenda,” and fear of reprimand from administrators.

“What about ourselves?” asked Lattimore. “Coming out of our comfort zones. One thing I want to leave, hopefully what you’ve heard this evening will help all of us out of our comfort zone.”

Bob Russell, a retired reverend from Southeast Christian Church, gave a closing speech that decried the bullying of secular culture and its corruption of children; he also denounced President Obama for praising NBA player Jason Collins for coming out as gay, while the saintly Tim Tebow was cut from the New York Jets.

After the meeting, LEO attempted to ask Lattimore about LACES and the teaching of biblical creationism, but the assistant superintendent refused to answer any questions.

Principal Hibbard told LEO that while he would not order his science teachers to promote or discuss biblical creationism, he would not discourage it and has let them understand they are allowed to do so under Kentucky law. When asked if such biblical lessons in science class — taking time away from learning actual science — would stunt the academic growth of students, Hibbard replied that it would not, as creationism is “just another theory.”

“Certainly, that’s what (creationism) is,” Hibbard said. “A theory is a scientific understanding of what we know today. So evolution is a theory. Creation is a theory. Intelligent design is a theory. The theory of relativity is a theory. Yeah.”

The Kentucky law that LACES suggests allows the teaching of biblical creationism is KRS 158.177, passed in 1990. While the statute allows the instruction of “the theory of creation as presented in the Bible,” it also states that no teacher “may stress any particular denominational religious belief,” and “This section is not to be construed as being adverse to any decision which has been rendered by any court of competent jurisdiction.”

According to JCPS officials, this statute does not allow such material to be taught in the school district.

“JCPS educators are instructed to adhere to the Kentucky Core Academic Standards in order to ensure our students graduate college and are career ready,” says JCPS spokesman Ben Jackey. “Creationism/intelligent design are not a part of the core standards.”

In an email to JCPS principals the day after the LACES meeting, Superintendent Donna Hargens noted that “Creationism and Intelligent Design are not part of the state science curriculum standards and are not taught.”

Amber Duke, spokeswoman for the ACLU of Kentucky, says that while social conservatives are becoming more aggressive in their attempts to spread creationism in science classes, this is a transparent attempt to break down the separation of church and state, and to promote Christianity as junk science.

“We refer to creation science as ‘creation science’ in quotes, because it and intelligent design are just religious doctrine,” Duke says. “Children’s religious education should be directed primarily by their parents, their family, and religious communities, and not by the public schools, and not teachers.”