God's Country by Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster
The ghost of William Jennings Bryan smiles on Aiken, S.C. -- where the debate between evolution and creationism still rages
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Dr. Laura Janecek urged the committee to think of the repercussions of denying Aiken’s schoolchildren an adequate science education, saying that it would hamper their ability to compete in an increasingly technical world, while Reverend Frank Rottier cited statistics from the Traditional Values Coalition, a Washington lobby group, which has claimed that since prayer was removed from the public schools in 1962, teenage suicide had gone up 450%; births to unmarried women, 500%; illegal drug use, 6,000% and yet math and science scores are down ten percent. "It’s a record we as Christians should be terribly ashamed of," he said.
The discussion found two dramatic high points, one when Francesca Pataro, a Unitarian, declared that her children had been ridiculed in school for being non-Christians. "It can be very difficult to be a minority religion in this country," Pataro said, her voice shaking. "[My children] have been told that they will go to hell because Jesus Christ is not their savior." Pataro went on to say that the creation stories of Christians, Native Americans, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus all have value and should be taught in the history or comparative religion classroom. "But Creationism," she said, firmly, "is not a science."
Yet if Pataro pleaded for tolerance as a member of a besieged minority, Wilson was just as emphatic in claiming the same status for his own people. "I am the infamous Glenn Wilson," he announced, clearing enjoying the attention that had made him something of a local celebrity.
"I would like everyone to look around. Tonight we are doing what is not allowed in the science classrooms of this school or any other school in this county. We are comparing ideas and deeply held beliefs." Gathering steam, Wilson then couched his argument in the language of a patriot. "It is not illegal to present an opposing view. It is fully American. It is why I served this country for seventeen years in the United States Navy. I put my life on the line so that others could express their opinion."
Evolution was well established in the years leading up to the trial of John Thomas Scopes in 1925. It had become accepted among scientists, social scientists, and even many theologians. References derived from it had entered the language. By the late 19th century, even the Constitution, so often referred to as a machine in the days of Jefferson was being described as an organism, in the process of adapting and evolving, improving with age.