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One Town's Battle Over Creationism

By Leon Lynn

The small Midwestern town of Louisville provides a concrete example of how issues such as creationism often play out in our nation's schools. Located about 10 miles northeast of Canton in the rolling farmland of Ohio's Stark County, Louisville (pronounced LEWIS-ville) is home to about 8,000 people. The virtually all-white community includes farmers, people who work at the few local factories, and many who commute to jobs in Canton and other nearby communities. The Louisville school system -- four elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school -- serves about 3,100 students from the town and the surrounding area.

"It's a community of nice folks," says James Warner, another Louisville school board member. "Close-knit, basically conservative."

Warner, who has served on the board for 12 years, says evolution has long been an issue in Louisville. In 1986, the district's science curriculum directed teachers to "contrast, compare and discuss alternatives to the evolutionary theory, particularly creationism." This was before a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision which struck down a Louisiana requirement that creationism receive the same attention as evolution in school curricula. The directive was later withdrawn, Warner says, after the ACLU threatened to sue the district, but the curriculum still directed teachers to present "alternatives to evolutionary theory." The evolution issue became more prominent in Louisville in about 1990 when Aljancic, as leader of a local fundamentalist group called the Origins Committee, began pressing the district to include more creationist material in the curriculum.

Originally from Cleveland, Aljancic has lived in Louisville for most of his 55 years. He teaches English and speech at a local Catholic school, though his own children have all attended the town's public schools. Aljancic says he grew up in "kind of a borderline Catholic family." Today he believes in the inerrancy of the Bible, and that Christianity "is really the only faith that answers the questions of life, why we die, and how we can live again." He also believes that the theory of evolution "is in contradiction with the Bible" and that if students are taught only evolution they'll accept it "because that's all they'll know." Like many creationists, he puts forth the "theory of intelligent design," the supposedly secular idea that life is too complex and remarkable to have sprung up purely by chance. Aljancic asked the school district to start using the controversial book "Of Pandas and People" as a science text. He and the Origins Committee even raised $13,000 to help defray the costs of any legal challenges the district encountered over the book. When the district refused -- officially because "Pandas" is not on Ohio's list of acceptable textbooks -- the Origins Committee bought 100 copies of the book and donated them to the school district to be used as a supplemental text and reference.

Ongoing Skirmishes

Since joining the board two years ago, Aljancic has "pushed a very focused agenda, all about public schools getting more value-oriented, more traditional," says Clyde Lepley, the Louisville district's superintendent. "I think he'd like to see more religion in our schools. ..."Creationism remains at the heart of that agenda, Lepley believes, but he says Aljancic "has backed off a bit" in light of the legal restrictions and the rules of decorum that the district and its board members must follow.

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