The John Peloza Story, Part II, or, “What Did Darwin Have That I Don’t Have?” The Scene:
An evening “meet and greet” at the indoor courtyard of Capistrano Valley High School. Parents have been invited to ask Peloza, biology teacher, family man, churchgoer, telegenic nice guy, whatever they might like.
Some 40 people, not including the media, show up. Organizers of the event, the local chapter of Parents for Excellence in Education, a so-called traditional-values group big on banning books, have rented out the space. Perfectly legal.
The school district, citing mysterious coincidences such as identically misspelled names, is investigating whether a school mailing list was stolen for the occasion. Perfectly illegal. Organizers say they are innocent. The Purpose:
Peloza, just in time for the start of the school year, plans to file a $5-million lawsuit against the school district, its administrators, the board of trustees, the attorney for the school district, the high school’s principal and vice principal, the faculty adviser to the school newspaper and four other teachers.
Peloza says he has been harassed and defamed, persecuted for his religious faith. Says his civil rights have been violated right and left. Says he’s just not going to take it anymore.
At this writing, Peloza has no plans to run for public office. He paints himself as just an average guy, standing up for bedrock American values; that is, God and country and battling for what is right and good.
Not bad. Has a nice, solid ring to it. Heroes of the extreme right-wing political persuasion usually start out this way. Then again, Larry Agran probably did too.
(Note to handlers: might want to check on that).
On the other hand, maybe any formal political overtures should wait until Peloza’s lawsuit makes it to the U.S. Supreme Court. According to his attorney, we’re talking test case here. And photos taken on the court’s front steps could look real good in poster size.
Interesting sound bites: In response to question from hostile parent questioner as to whether Peloza has a degree in biology (answer: no), our man responds:
“What degree did Darwin have?” (Answer: theology.)
Peloza further declares that he doesn’t cheat on his wife and he doesn’t beat his kid. Also not bad. The Lowdown:
Peloza is a “born again” Christian who believes in the Bible, literally. He believes in creationism, although he rarely uses that that word. Creationism tends to conjure up all sorts of not-so-popular images in the public mind, i.e. lunatic fringe, backwater, uneducated types, and this is not an image befitting of John Peloza. He calls it intelligent design instead. Fine.
Peloza says he believes in science too. He says intelligent design is a scientific theory, just like evolution is a scientific theory, so therefore he teaches both. Then he says he lets his students make up their own minds.
Peloza, who has been with the district seven years, says he does not teach religion at all.
“Students like the class because they don’t have someone jumping down their throat telling them that they have to accept dogmatic Darwinism,” he says. “I will not tell my students that they evolved from an amoeboid slime.”
Outside the classroom, at lunch or after the final bell, things change a tad. Peloza says that when students ask about his religion, he responds. He says he carries a Bible with him and shares his thoughts about it with those who ask.
He says that he’s had some “nice discussions” and that he’s given away Bibles to students. The parents of two Jewish kids complained; the district reprimanded Peloza. The teacher says he did nothing wrong.
“If the parents have a problem, they should tell their kids not to talk to me,” he says.
Peloza’s attorney, Cyrus Zal, general counsel for the Rutherford Institute of California, adds this: “Mr. Peloza does not bring his religious world view into the classroom. The problem is there is also a world view of secular humanism, or atheism, and that is trying to dictate to Mr. Peloza their world view. That is where the problem comes in!” The Reaction:
Mostly hostile. Then again, a few people speak up to give Peloza their support. One mother says she monitored her daughter’s lessons when the subject of human origins came up in Peloza’s class. Says she was impressed, that John Peloza taught her daughter to think for herself. The mother later tells the organizer of the event that she will join Peloza’s cause, to please put her on the list.
Most parents, however, are decidedly unimpressed. Seems to be a few ringers in the crowd, too: men who badger our guy with scientific questions and quote scientists who, one assumes, wouldn’t be too impressed with Peloza’s view that fossil remains prove that species do not change.
“Has a shark evolved into anything other than a fish?” Peloza asks.
A fellow science teacher at the school raises her hand to declare: “I am one of those people who disagrees vehemently with what John teaches. If you teach that fossil records disprove evolution, then I disagree with you. But I am also a Christian.”
So it comes back down to this: Religion and its place in public schools. Can you be a Christian, or a Jew, a Buddhist, Muslim or member of any other religion, and still teach human origins from a scientific view, and still keep from proselytizing students at school?
Many other Americans do.
The reason could be our Constitution, or it could be following local teaching guidelines, or it could be common sense. Discussion about religion should go on in public schools. History class might be a start; religious beliefs are at the foundation of many world events.
Or better yet, how about a class in comparative religions? High school seems like a good place to start. It’s time this came out in the open, instead of hiding behind fancy phrases like intelligent design in biology class. The Upcoming Attractions: