CROWLEY v. SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION No. 79-1193.
636 F.2d 738 (1980)
Dale CROWLEY, Jr., Individually & in his capacity as Executive Director of the National Foundation for Fairness in Education, et al., Appellants, v. SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION et al.
United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.
Decided October 30, 1980.
Mark J. Biros, Asst. U. S. Atty., Washington, D. C., with whom Carl S. Rauh, U. S. Atty., at the time the brief was filed, John A. Terry and William H. Briggs, Jr., Asst. U. S. Attys., Washington, D. C., were on the brief, for appellees. Regina C. McGranery, Asst. U. S. Atty., Washington, D. C., also entered an appearance for appellees.
Before TAMM and MacKINNON, Circuit Judges, and LOUIS F. OBERDORFER, U. S. District Judge for the District of Columbia.
Opinion for the court filed by District Judge OBERDORFER.
OBERDORFER, District Judge:
Appellants are an individual and two organizations, the National Foundation for Fairness in Education and National Bible Knowledge, Inc. They refer to their conception of the origin of life as "scientific creationism." They assert that by marshalling and interpreting data in a scientific way, they can support the proposition that human and other forms of life were brought into existence in completed form, all at one time, by a Creator.
Appellees are the Smithsonian Institution and two Smithsonian employees. Using federal funds, appellees planned (for 1979) and conducted (in 1978) two exhibitions containing references to evolution at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History (Museum). The exhibit presented at the Museum in 1978 was entitled "The Emergence of Man." The one planned for (and presumably completed in) 1979, contemplated using specimens from the Museum's collection to dramatize the diversity of life on Earth, the adaptation of plant and animal life to their environments, and the way in which organisms change over time in response to environmental and other influences.
Appellants sued in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for a declaratory judgment that the Smithsonian's charter (20 U.S.C. § 41 et seq.) did not authorize the use of federal funds for such exhibits and that, if the charter did authorize such use of federal funds, the charter and the expenditures violated the first amendment's prohibition against the establishment of religion and inhibited appellants' free exercise of their religion. Appellants urged that by explaining and advocating the theory of evolution, appellees unconstitutionally supported the religion of Secular Humanism.
Appellees moved in the District Court for dismissal or, in the alternative, for summary judgment on the grounds that (1) appellants lacked standing to challenge the statutory authority of the appellees,
Appellants opposed summary judgment as inappropriate. They disputed whether the exhibits were religious or secular, and whether evolution itself is a scientific theory in light of the fact that it cannot be proven in a laboratory. The District Court refused to accept appellants' description of evolution "as, and only as, part of the religion of secular humanism." Crowley v. Smithsonian Institution,
Appellants' appeal focuses specifically on whether there were genuine issues of material fact which precluded decision by summary judgment and whether the District Court viewed the inferences to be drawn from appellants' pleadings and affidavits in a light most favorable to appellants. Appellants claim both that the trial court should not have resolved by summary judgment the question of whether the exhibits were secular in nature as displaying scientific knowledge and that the trial court failed to draw the inferences necessary under the law as to "the religious nature of evolution and the preferred position given this religious belief system by appellees in violation of the First Amendment ...." Appellants' brief at p. 27. Appellees' response basically tracked and supported the trial court's memorandum. Satisfied that there were no material facts in dispute and that the trial court correctly decided the legal issues, we affirm.
The Smithsonian Institution was created by the Act of August 10, 1846, "to increase and diffuse knowledge among men." 20 U.S.C. § 41. The National Museum of Natural History is a bureau of the Smithsonian. The Museum is authorized 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. This authority is governed by and in aid of the overriding charter of the Institution. 20 U.S.C. § 41. According to the uncontradicted affidavit of the Museum director, himself an appellee in this case, the Museum "is considered one of the world's major centers for the study of plants, animals, fossil organisms, terrestrial and extraterrestrial rocks and minerals, and man himself."
There has been no dispute about the physical elements of the exhibits in question. The exhibit planned for 1979 was to emphasize specimens from the Museum's collection depicting adaptations of plants and animals to their environment by such devices as camouflage, the overproduction of offspring and other defense mechanisms. It was to include an introductory display of a variety of specimens such as trays of bird eggs, mammal skulls, and jars of amphibians. App. at p. 62. There were also to be displays on genetics, natural selection, and one showing differentiation of populations. App. at pp. 62-78.
The 1978 exhibit, the "Emergence of Man," is described in an accompanying pamphlet as "the story of how, when and where modern human beings evolved from homonid ancestors who lived millions of years ago." App. at 52. This exhibit, consisting of data from the natural world, illustrated the physical similarities and differences between man and what were reported to be geneological ancestors.
The concept of evolution was referred to in these exhibits. They did not, however, express implicitly or explicitly "that the evolutionary theory of the origin of man and of all plants and animal life is `the only credible theory of the origin of life.'" Affidavit of Porter M. Kier, Director of the National Museum of Natural History, App. at p. 46. The exhibits did not mention religion in general or Secular Humanism in particular. Neither by their terms nor by implication did the exhibits disparage religion or any religious tenet.
Appellants' opposition to the summary judgment motion was essentially a challenge to the concept of evolution. It questioned whether that concept is any more
Assuming, arguendo, that, as asserted in Dr. Bliss' affidavit, the evolution theory cannot be proved "scientifically" in the laboratory and in that sense rests ultimately on "faith," such fact is not material because it would not establish as a matter of law that the exhibits in question establish any religion such as Secular Humanism.
The fact that religions involve acceptance of some tenets on faith without scientific proof obviously does not mean that all beliefs and all theories which rest in whole or in part on faith are therefore elements of a religion as that term is used in the first amendment. For example, appellees suggest that the theory of relativity defies absolute laboratory proof. Obviously the constitution would not interdict government development and diffusion of knowledge about relativity even if it were based on some hypotheses which are not susceptible to physically demonstrable proof.
Nor does it follow that government involvement in a subject which is also important to practitioners of a religion becomes, therefore, activity in support of religion. For example, birth control and abortion are topics that involve both religious beliefs and general health and welfare concerns. Many religious leaders have vigorously opposed government support of the teaching and practice of birth control and government support, or even toleration, of abortion. Controversy, including litigation, about these subjects has been prolific and spirited. See, e.g., Williams v. Zbaraz,
Id. So here, we cannot conclude that the exhibits in question are impermissible because
Our resolution of appellants' establishment claim as a matter of law disposes of their procedural contention that the District Court erroneously resolved a material issue of fact short of trial. The dispute about whether the evolution theory was based on scientific proof or on faith is immaterial to the question of whether the Smithsonian exhibits supported establishment of Secular Humanism as a religion. The fact that appellants were able to identify one religious group that espoused evolution as one of its tenets is immaterial. Accordingly, we are satisfied that the District Court did not leave unresolved any material issues of fact.
Although the foregoing discussion furnishes an adequate basis for decision, we briefly address the trial court's disposition of appellants' substantive contentions that (1) the appellees' use of federal funds for the exhibits exceeded their authority under the Act of 1846 and (2) if the expenditures were authorized, the Act and the activity of conducting the exhibits violated the first amendment.
Appellants appear not to press their statutory claim in this appeal. We have nevertheless satisfied ourselves from the plain language of the Act, the record, and from judicial notice of the Smithsonian's varied public activities that the exhibits at issue here were well within the appellees' charter from Congress "to increase and diffuse knowledge among men." The exhibits used the Museum's specimens. They were related to and based upon those specimens. The exhibits were marshalled in an orderly way. They related to various aspects of the theory of evolution. That theory has widely disseminated, responsible, secular endorsement.
Courts should be particularly sensitive to claims by groups that government is involved in their religion either by interfering with it, or by supporting a competing theology. The Supreme Court has mandated "government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion." Epperson v. Arkansas,
Application of the Supreme Court's caution to this case necessarily requires a balance between appellants' freedom to practice and propagate their religious beliefs in creation without suffering government competition or interferences and appellees' right to disseminate, and the public's right to receive, knowledge from government, through schools and other institutions such as the Smithsonian. This balance was long ago struck in favor of diffusion of knowledge based on responsible scientific foundations, and against special constitutional protection of religious believers from the competition generated by such knowledge diffusion.
Thus, the essential question posed by appellants has been resolved by authoritative decisions permitting public schools to teach the facts and theory of evolution to children who, unlike appellants, are compelled by law to come and look and listen. Such public involvement in evolution was not only permitted by the first amendment, but the Courts have further held that to bar or inhibit such teaching would, under some circumstances, itself violate the establishment clause. See Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 U.S. at 103, 89 S.Ct. at 269; Daniel v. Waters,
In view of the foregoing, it is unnecessary to labor and therefore we only note that we approve the District Court's application of the criteria as stated in Tilton v. Richardson, supra. The solid secular purpose of the exhibits is apparent from their context and their elements. They did not materially advance the religious theory of Secular Humanism, or sufficiently impinge upon appellants' practice of theirs to justify interdiction. Except insofar as appellants have themselves entangled religion in the exhibits, there is no religious involvement as that concept is used in Tilton.
Accordingly, the decision below is affirmed.
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