July 3, 2008

Former State Science Director Sues Over Intelligent Design E-Mail

By Terrence Stutz, The Dallas Morning News

Jul. 3--AUSTIN -- A former state science curriculum director on Wednesday sued the Texas Education Agency and Education Commissioner Robert Scott, alleging she was illegally fired for forwarding an e-mail about a lecture critical of the movement to promote intelligent design in science classes.

Christina Comer, who lost her job at the TEA last fall, said in a suit filed in federal court in Austin that she was terminated for contravening an "unconstitutional" policy at the agency. The policy required employees to be neutral on the subject of creationism -- the biblical interpretation of the origin of humans, she said.

The policy was in force, according to the suit, even though the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that teaching creationism as science in public schools is illegal.

"The agency's 'neutrality' policy has the purpose or effect of endorsing religion, and thus violates the Establishment Clause" of the U.S. Constitution, the lawsuit said.

Ms. Comer also said in her complaint that she was fired without due process after serving as the state science director for nearly 10 years.

Her lawsuit seeks a court order overturning the TEA's neutrality policy on teaching creationism and declaring that her dismissal was illegal under the Constitution. The suit also seeks her reinstatement.

A spokeswoman for the education agency said TEA officials had no comment on the lawsuit because they had not seen it.

But officials previously said Ms. Comer's e-mail about the lecture implied endorsement of the speaker's position "on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral." The speaker, Barbara Forrest, was the author of a book that asserted creationist politics were behind the national movement to get intelligent design taught in schools.

The theory of intelligent design holds that the origin of the universe and humans is best explained by an unknown "intelligent cause" rather than through evolutionary processes such as natural selection and random mutation. Critics -- including at least one federal judge -- contend that intelligent design is nothing more than creationism in disguise and has no business being taught in science classes.

TEA officials also said Ms. Comer made unauthorized remarks not connected to the debate over creationism and intelligent design during her tenure at the agency.

She left the agency as the State Board of Education was beginning to plan for a rewrite of the science curriculum in 2008. Curriculum standards now require that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution -- including the premise that humans evolved from lower forms of life -- be taught in all high school biology classes.


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