Petition stirs debate over evolution in Nev. schools |

Petition stirs debate over evolution in Nev. schools

RENO (AP) – It didn’t take long for debate to surface over a proposed constitutional amendment that would require Nevada teachers to instruct students that there are many questions about evolution.

Less than a week after it was filed with the secretary of state’s office, the initiative petition is splitting parents, religious leaders, elected officials and schoolteachers.

Reno High School science teacher Mike Chambers opposes the measure, saying he views it as an effort to create an opening to teach intelligent design.

“I’m not ready to give up all the work done by geologists, chemists, biologists, astrophysicists and the like for the Bible. It’s not a science reference source,” Chambers told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

But state Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, hailed Las Vegas masonry contractor Steve Brown, a Democrat, for filing the petition last week.

“If he is trying to emphasize that evolution is not the be-all and end-all, then I’m all for what he is trying to do,” Cegavske said. “There are people who don’t believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution. I don’t believe in his theory.”

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While some parents welcome the proposal as an attempt to restore balance, others worry schools will teach their children about concepts that may overlap with religion.

“Aren’t we supposed to have a separation of church and state?” asked Lori Koehler, a Sparks mother of two sons. “Why would I allow a teacher to teach my children any religious philosophy? I don’t know if they would teach my children exactly what I want them to learn about religion.”

While he’s a proponent of intelligent design, state Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks, opposes Brown’s strategy of changing the constitution.

Washington said he instead is considering sponsoring legislation at the 1997 session that would allow intelligent design to be taught as an elective in Nevada schools.

“We would be setting a very dangerous precedent to try to amend the constitution to reflect change in curriculum,” said Washington, a pastor of the Center of Hope Christian Fellowship.

Such changes should be made by the Legislature or school boards, he added.

Myra Soifer, rabbi of Temple Sinai in Reno, said the proposal is an attempt to teach intelligent design and religion should be kept out of the classroom.

“Intelligent design is simply creationism reworked in an effort to make it somehow seem more palatable,” she said. “Creationism, however deceptively packaged, is a specific religious teaching that does not belong in the public school system.”

Randy Siever, director of outreach at Sparks Christian Fellowship, said some scientists don’t believe in evolution, and the questions they pose should be presented.

“You ought to be taught what the problems are with any theory,” he said. “It seems to me we should be open to every perspective. The rules of science would beg to ask good questions, examine propositions.

“Why do we have to have a law to tell us to do what’s right? I think this is kind of silly legislation,” Siever said.

The teaching of intelligent design or creationism is forbidden under Nevada’s public school science standards, educators said.

Cegavske was the only member of an eight-member state council who voted to teach other theories besides evolution in science classes when current standards were passed in 2004.

“I’m very sad that we have taken God out of the schools,” Cegavske said. “When I went to school, we had a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. Now, they are even disputing the word ‘God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance. It is all very frustrating to a lot of us.”