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School Board tackles creationism debate

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November 5, 1995
Web posted at: 11:45 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Jed Duvall

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Virginia (CNN)--In a suburb of the nation's capital, an election for school board seats has turned into a contest over religion.

Parents who find Christ missing from the public schools take comfort in having their children attend Fairfax Baptist Temple.

"I make it very emphatically clear that what we do here is base everything on the Bible. This becomes really the foundation, the word of God is the foundation from which all academics really spring," said Gil Hansen of the Fairfax Baptist Temple.

Hearing the science of evolution taught as fact is, to Hansen and others, wrong.



"We need to ask whether those candidates are really interested in educating children or in holding revival meetings on school property."

Becky Edmiston-Lange
Unitarian-Universalist Minister

"We certainly let the young people know that hey, there's a lot of people out there that believe that Darwin's theory of evolution is the way things were created. We expose it as a false model," said Hansen.

Thirty five people are running for the 12 seats on the Fairfax County school board. About a third of the candidates are fundamentalist Christians who oppose sex education, want the school budget cut, and talk of teaching creationism. Their presence in the election has brought out a number of other clergy of several faiths to defend the schools.

Rabbi Amy Perlin said, "None of us has a lock on God and family. We all care about religion. We all care about families."

"We need to ask whether those candidates are really interested in educating children or in holding revival meetings on school property," Becky Edmiston-Lange, a Unitarian-Universalist Minister said.

Some of those who call themselves mainstream claim that Christian right candidates often bear false witness, especially about things like sex education which is part of Fairfax County's Family Life curriculum.

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"I can tell you as a school board member for the last two years, I have spent countless hours listening to them saying that they believe that we ought to eliminate the family life education program," said school board candidate Kristen Amundsen. "Now, depending on where you are, they're staunch supporters of it with just minor changes or in other forums where they think that the message might be more friendly, they're saying 'absolutely, let's eliminate it'." (173K AIFF sound or 173K WAV sound)

Carter Thomas, one of the fundamentalists, says he's heard this before. "I do know and am aware of NEA tactics that prevailed in Tidewater last year and this seems to be right out of that playbook. Seems to be in the last week what you do is you try and get the public's mind on to things such as prayer and creation and other things that tend to hit nerves with people," he said.

Bill Nowers runs the American Family Association, which supports the fundamentalist agenda. "I think this is a very important election," Nowers said. "Members are being elected for a four-year term. There's a good chance that the tone of the board that's established for the first four years could very much change the direction of the school board."



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Georgetown University Professor Clyde Wilcox said the election outcome cannot be predicted, but: "Fairfax is not a hospitable climate for teaching creationism, abolishing Family Life Education. It is a well-educated, affluent community, where the citizenry values education. My guess is they'll lose most of the races," said Professor Wilcox.

Regardless how it comes out Tuesday in Fairfax County, the professor and others note that this political phenomenon is not something brand new in America. Nor will it soon fade.

"I think it will continue to increase. You have to remember we've been discussing creationism since 1910 when the issue first arose, when liberals were surprised that these issues appeared. They just didn't realize that issue has always been out there among conservative Christians," said Wilcox.

It's an issue that will continue to resonate, especially among those who see the story of creation as God's own fact and see evolution as some new-fangled theory.



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