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Federal judge dismisses lawsuit alleging science standards for Kansas schools promote atheism


TOPEKA, Kansas — A federal judge Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit alleging that science standards for Kansas public schools promote atheism and violate the religious freedoms of students and parents.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Crabtree ruled that a nonprofit group, parents and taxpayers challenging the standards did not claim specific enough injuries from adoption of the guidelines to allow the case to go forward.

The State Board of Education last year adopted standards developed by Kansas, 25 other states and the National Research Council. The guidelines treat both evolution and climate change as key scientific concepts to be taught from kindergarten through 12th grade.

The guidelines replaced evolution-friendly standards that had been in place since 2007, and most board members believed they will improve science education by shifting the emphasis in classes to hands-on projects and experiments. The board sought the lawsuit's dismissal.

The lawsuit was filed by Citizens for Objective Public Education, a group based in the small, Wichita-area town of Peck. It had criticized the standards as an attempt to indoctrinate students into a "non-theistic" world view and said their adoption was a "message of endorsement" telling some parents and students that they are outsiders. The group was joined by parents and taxpayers in challenging the standards.

But Crabtree said the aggrieved group and individuals didn't say how they were directly harmed by the standards, other than asserting an "abstract stigmatic injury" that isn't enough to sustain a lawsuit. He also noted that even under the guidelines, local school districts still directly control what's taught in classrooms.

Doug Patterson, a Leawood attorney representing the group and individuals opposing the standards, said he was reviewing the ruling and couldn't comment.

Officials in the Kansas attorney general's office, which defended the board and its members in the case, did not immediately return telephone and email messages seeking comment.

Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Missouri, also contributed to this report.

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