Church-and-state issues are emerging as a dominant theme in the U.S. Supreme Court’s current term—its first under Chief Justice William Rehnquist. This month, oral arguments were presented in a case involving a Louisiana law requiring both evolution and creation science to be taught in public schools. Other key cases involve employment policies of religious groups, obscenity, and restrictions on abortion.

In the case of Edwards v. Aguillard, proponents of Louisiana’s creation-science law based their argument on equal treatment. The law, they pointed out, “defines creation science as scientific data, and not as the Biblical account or other religious account of creation.” They said the state law should stand because it serves the purpose of protecting academic freedom and does not violate the constitutional prohibition against establishing state-approved religion.

Opponents say the statute violates the First Amendment because it is impossible to separate creation science from religion. They also reject the idea that creation science is valid from the standpoint of scientific inquiry. A group of more than 70 Nobel laureates in various scientific disciplines filed a brief with the high court saying the Louisiana law “sets up a false conflict between science and religion” and allows an “illegitimate bias toward the outlook of a particular religious sect.”

A number of religious groups have joined the debate, filing briefs on both sides of the issue. The National Council of Churches, American Jewish Committee, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State filed a brief against the law. Groups filing in favor of preserving the law include the Rutherford Institute, ...

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