The case in question is the Supreme Court's otherwise routine denial of further review in a 2000 case styled Tangipahoa Parish Board of Education v. Freiler, 530 U.S. 1251 (2000). In Tangipahoa Parish (whose dominant geophysical feature is depicted here), a Louisiana school board had declared that lessons on "the Scientific Theory of Evolution" would "be presented to inform students of the scientific concept and not . . . to influence or dissuade the Biblical version of Creation or any other concept." The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit duly invalidated the school board’s disclaimer. Public expressions challenging the scientific validity of evolution have no chance of withstanding the Supreme Court’s leading decisions regarding legal efforts to restrict the teaching of evolution. This is routine, settled law, a straightforward application of Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. 97 (1968), and Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987).
Justice Antonin Scalia, however, took extreme pains to dissent from this decision. He derided the appeals court’s reasoning -- and, by extension, that of his colleagues who voted to deny urther review -- as "quite simply absurd." He found no reasonable prospect of treating the school board’s "reference to . . . a reality of religious literature" as an unconstitutional “establishment of religion." After expressing seeming disapproval of Epperson and Edwards, Justice Scalia berated his colleagues for advancing further "the much beloved secular legend of the Monkey Trial."
Justice Scalia’s allusion to the 1925 prosecution of John Scopes for teaching evolution in a Tennessee high school represented a transparent political appeal to the shockingly powerful lobby that opposes the teaching of evolution in American public schools. Justice Scalia’s dissent in Tangipahoa Parish deserves condemnation because no other legal authority comes as close to supporting the teaching of creationism. The creationist lobby goes by the name "intelligent design" these days, but the enemy deserves to be called by its proper name: creationism. Justice Scalia’s shameless pandering gives judicial aid and comfort of the highest order to the creationist lobby.
Seen in the light of creationism’s slow but persistent growth into what Stephen Jay Gould has called a potentially "powerful champion of darkness," Justice Scalia’s gratuitous swipe at evolutionary biology in Tangipahoa Parish may be the most scientifically irresponsible passage in United States Reports. For sheer stupidity and public recklessness, Justice Scalia’s sarcastic reference to legal efforts to keep evolution in public school classrooms as a "secular legend" may actually eclipse Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s eugenicist epithet in Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200, 207 (1927), "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."