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Evolution backers seek to influence Ohio elections

COLUMBUS (AP): Supporters of teaching Darwin's theory of evolution to school children have launched a campaign aimed at unseating a state Board of Education member who has supported critical evaluation of the theory.

Help Ohio Public Education, a coalition of evolution proponents, on Friday announced an advocacy group headed up by Lawrence Krauss, director of the Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics at Case Western Reserve University.

“I think what you’re seeing is grass-roots democracy at work. This is a referendum on intelligent design and creationism,” said G.R. Schloemer of Cincinnati, a Republican board member who supports the evolution theory and has the group's support. “This issue has bogged down the board since I came on five years ago. We’ve got a very divided board. There is no trust among any of us.”

Nine members on the 19-member board will see their four-year terms expire at the end of this year, with voters going to the polls in November to fill five of the vacancies and the others to be appointed by the next governor.

Help Ohio Public Education—HOPE—is targeting board member Deborah Owens Fink, a Republican who seeks re-election. The group is hoping to run former Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Sawyer against her. Both are from the Akron area.

Sawyer said he is circulating petitions and plans to announce his intentions this week.

In February, the board voted 11-4 to delete a state standard and corresponding lesson plan that encouraged students to seek evidence for and against evolution. Critics said the lesson echoed arguments from proponents of intelligent design.

“They got what they wanted,'' said Owens Fink, who voted to keep the standard. ``I don't understand why they are even engaged on the topic. Ohio isn’t Kansas.''

Earlier this month, voters in that state ousted a conservative state Board of Education majority that had pushed anti-evolution standards.

Following the Ohio vote, Owens Fink said she supported altering the state standards to require students to critically analyze more aspects of science, such as physics and chemistry, rather than singling out evolution.

The board's decision came after a federal judge in December banned a local school board in Dover, Pa., from teaching intelligent design alongside evolution in high school biology classes because it would violate the separation of church and state. The judge called intelligent design religion masquerading as science.

Intelligent design says some features of the universe are so well-ordered and complex that an intelligent cause is the best way to explain them. Most scientists view it as a new form of creationism.

“We hope to raise the profile of school board elections,'' Krauss said of HOPE. “We’ve seen in Ohio and Kansas how significant these elections can be.''

Board President Sue Westendorf said Owens Fink has not put a personal agenda ahead of education.

“This is going to be an interesting election, but I hope (voters) pay attention to the larger issues,'' she said. “The economy and its ties to education—that's what is going to make us competitive.''

Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com





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