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CROWLEY v. SMITHSONIAN INST.

December 11, 1978

Dale CROWLEY, Jr., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: PARKER

The plaintiffs, an individual and two religious groups, raise a First Amendment challenge to both existing and proposed exhibitions on the subject of evolution at the National Museum of Natural History (Museum) of the Smithsonian Institution. In essence, they allege that the Museum presents evolution as the only credible theory of the origin of life, thereby establishing "a religion of secular humanism" and violating the government's role of religious neutrality in violation of the First Amendment. They seek injunctive and declaratory relief or, in the alternative, an order compelling defendants "to expend an amount equal to the amount expended in the promulgation of the evolutionary theory . . . on the Biblical account of creation found in the Book of Genesis." The defendants are the Smithsonian, its Secretary, the Museum, and its Director.

 The defendants have moved to dismiss or for summary judgment, on grounds that the evolution exhibits fall within the Museum's statutory authority and that they do not violate plaintiffs' First Amendment rights. On the basis of the parties' memoranda, exhibits and affidavits, and the oral argument of counsel, the Court finds defendants entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.

 The material facts underlying this suit are not in dispute. The Smithsonian Institution was created in 1846, pursuant to the trust of James Smithson, as "an establishment . . . for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men." 20 U.S.C. § 41. The Museum is to receive "all objects of art and of foreign and curious research, and all objects of natural history, plants, and geological and mineralogical specimens belonging to the United States." 20 U.S.C. § 50. Over 100 scientists conduct research and care for the collections. The Smithsonian is financed in major part by federal funds.

 Current displays at the Museum contain references to evolution as this theory pertains to the exhibits, without explanation. A major exhibit is being planned on the scientific theory of evolution, with emphasis to be on the diversity of life and adaptations which various forms of life have made to their environment and each other.

 Neither the existing or current exhibits make any claim that evolution is the only credible theory of the origin of life. There is no mention of the Genesis or any other religious theory of creation.

 The evolutionary theory of the origin of life is hostile to the religious beliefs of the plaintiffs, who believe that God created life.

 The plaintiffs argue that certain material facts are disputed, specifically: 1) whether the exhibits are secular; and 2) whether evolution is a scientific theory, since it cannot be demonstrated in a laboratory. To accept either of these as factual issues, one must accept the plaintiffs' classification of evolution as, and only as, part of the religion of secular humanism, which the Court cannot do for reasons discussed below. As the court stated in Wright v. Houston Independent School District, 366 F. Supp. 1208, 1211 (S.D.Tex.1972), Aff'd, 486 F.2d 137 (5th Cir. 1973), "(s)cience and religion necessarily deal with many of the same questions, and they may frequently provide conflicting answers." Given that the Smithsonian does not treat evolution as a religious matter or express any overt hostility to religious theories of creation, the Court cannot accept plaintiffs' characterization of these issues as factual.

 The plaintiffs' challenge to the Smithsonian exhibits is based on both statutory and constitutional considerations.

 The Statutory Challenge

 Plaintiffs' first argument is that the Smithsonian evolution exhibits involve interpretations of natural history specimens and therefore exceed the authority of 20 U.S.C. § 50 to display objects. While the defendants challenge plaintiffs' standing to make this statutory claim, the Court will assume standing and proceed because the merits go clearly against plaintiffs. See Chinese American Civic Council v. Attorney General, 185 U.S. App. D.C. 1, 5, 566 F.2d 321, 325 (D.C.Cir.1977).

 This statutory argument is not well-taken. The Congressional mandate to the Smithsonian under § 41 is to operate so as to increase and diffuse knowledge among men. The Museum has, from inception, used its specimens for purposes of scientific research and educating the public on the current state of scientific knowledge. The record reveals that the Museum's presentation of the evolutionary theory does not go beyond this purpose. The exhibits are wholly secular, ...


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