For 15 years, in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling, Larry Booher taught creationism in his high school biology class. He even compiled a textbook of sorts and passed out copies in three-ring binders.
The school superintendent didn’t know what was going on. Neither did the school board president. Then, they got an anonymous tip.
Booher has agreed to revise his lesson plan, though he maintained that he handed out the book, titled “Creation Battles Evolution,” to his Biology 2 students only as a voluntary, extra-credit option.
“He told the students, 'You may read this. You don’t have to. It has some Bible references in it',” said Alan Lee, superintendent of Washington County schools. “This teacher felt like he wasn’t doing anything wrong.”
The Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that creationism, the belief that God created the universe as explained in the Bible, is a religious belief — not science — and may not be taught in public schools along with evolution.
“Creationism is not biology and has no place in a biology class,” said Kent Willis, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia. “What makes it wrong is not the theory of creationism, but the teaching of creationism as part of a science class.”
Lee said Booher’s compilation drew on sources ranging from the Internet to scholarly papers and quotations from scientists and scholars critical of evolution or evidence supporting it.
Lee said the material was never presented to the school board or to his office for approval. He declined to say what punishment — if any — Booher would face, calling it a personnel matter.
Elizabeth Lowe, chairwoman of the school board, said she had heard “not a word” about Booher’s book in her 11 years in office.
Lee described Booher, 48, as “one of the finest science teachers I’ve ever been around” and said Booher would return to the classroom in the fall since he agreed to stop distributing the creationism materials.
“He must teach evolution exclusively — observable scientific fact, not beliefs or religion,” Lee said. “I fully believe he will comply. He just stepped over the line.”
Calls to Booher’s home were met with hang-ups Thursday. He told The Roanoke Times he regretted handing out the material.
“I can’t change my classroom into a Sunday school class,” he told the newspaper. “It’s not like I tried to make it a secret. If administrators knew, fine. If they didn’t, I didn’t make an issue of it.”
No complaints thus far
Booher’s source book, which he distributed at his own expense to classes ranging from 25 to 40 students, included nine chapters with titles such as “In the beginning” and “Evidence for a young Earth.”
As news of Booher’s source book surfaced this week, Lee said he has had no complaints from parents.
“I’m not surprised,” he said. “People in this area tend to be very religious. They likely didn’t see it as anything that wasn’t appropriate.”