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10th Cir. Brushes off Kansas Religious Education Case

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on April 28, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of an Establishment Clause case against the Kansas Board of Education brought after the state sought to adopt curriculum standards for K-12 science instruction. Those standards, some parents claimed, "breached the parent's trust" and would result in "anti-religious instruction."

It didn't take long before the circuit affirmed for the Board.

Establishment Clause Violations

Following the creation of the Next Generation Science Standard, 26 states adopted curricula that "provided performance expectations that depict ... what student[s] must do to show proficiency in science." Those standards include basic scientific knowledge, such as an understanding of extinction and that "living things can only survive where their needs are met." It is important to note that the standards do not prescribe but do provide guidance for designing criteria for proficiency.

The Citizens of Objective Public Education is a political group that generally favors the promotion of the religious rights of parents. COPE alleged that the standards violated the Establishment Clause because the standards themselves encouraged children to reject religious beliefs.

COPE was concerned that the standards would lead children away from religion by requiring them to "to answer questions about the cause and nature of life with only scientific, non-religious explanations."

In fact, COPE argued that the injury was imminent and that the mere adoption of the standards was a breach of parents' rights.

Dismissal and Affirmation

The lower court dismissed COPE's theories and was affirmed by the circuit court above it. The problem, the Tenth Circuit said, was the issue of standing -- one for which the lower court was correct in ruling didn't exist.

COPE relied on the case American Atheists, Inc. v. Davenport in which a statute specifically targeted Islam, interfering with that plaintiff's ability to practice his faith and access the legal process.

Here, however, the promulgated standards did not pick out any religion specifically. In fact, the facts supporting COPE'S theory were "threadbare." Based on the same want of facts, the plaintiffs further failed to prove that any religious promotion did or would take place to cause injury. As such, the circuit court left the dismissal undisturbed.

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