Scopes reconsidered in Kansas



Kansas City:



(Courtesy of  Cashill Newsletter - July 28, 2000 )

By Jack Cashill

As Sixty-Third Street crosses the state line from Kansas City, Missouri into Kansas, the speed limit drops from 35 to 25, stop signs pop up at every other corner, and police cars lurk behind the topiary.

Welcome to Johnson County, one of the most affluent  suburban areas in America and the unlikely site for what a local columnist has aptly called "The Gettysburg of the culture war."  In this war, as in most, propaganda has trumped truth at almost every turn.

In Mission Hills, the first and plushest town across the state line, a town that until recently banned "For Sale" signs, "Sue Gamble" yard signs sprout like wild flowers.  The heretofore anonymous 58 year-old is challenging the incumbent for an unsalaried seat on the Kansas School Board.  Despite her brief window of celebrity, Gamble has managed to attract the outspoken support of the local Republican establishment, the endorsement of The Kansas City Star, and the eager embrace of the rich and the scared.

As Sixty-Third Street quits Mission Hills and heads into the merely prosperous suburbs to the west, the green Gamble signs yield to the red signs of the incumbent School Board member, Linda Holloway.  Holloway runs strong in these more modest quarters, but possibly not strong enough.

As "Chairman" (her word) of the School Board last August, Holloway committed the one unforgivable sin in the tonier confines of Johnson County.  She embarrassed her betters by reminding them that they still live in Kansas. 

Specifically, Holloway led a surprise counter attack against the science educators who attempted to impose new, evolution-heavy science standards on the state.  The Board's move was hardly the "ban on evolution" that was widely reported.  After much wrangling, Holloway's 6-4 majority merely referred the decision on how evolution should be taught to the local school districts and deleted a few contested theories from the state assessment tests, most provocatively the so-called big bang.  The decision," Linda Holloway notes correctly, "was rather minor compared to the reaction it got."

That reaction bordered on the hysterical.  Governor Bill Graves, a moderate Republican, called the move, "a terrible, tragic, embarrassing solution to a problem that did not have to exist," a lament that has been echoed by one pol and pundit after another.   Kansas is the "laughing stock of the world," wails the influential, if solipsistic, Mainstream Coalition on its web site.  A billboard on I-35, as it approaches Johnson County, features a call to vote under one large word--"Embarrassed?" 

So deep is the embarrassment that Republican Congressional candidate Greg Musil has chosen to exploit it and make evolution the dominant theme of his campaign.  His radio ads, for instance, quote an outrageous string of  Kansas-bashing editorials from the East Coast media and then, incredibly, present Musil as the only candidate bold enough to confront the Board and erase the shame. 

This strategy might just seem eccentric and amusing were the seat not held by one term incumbent Dennis Moore in a district that should never have gone Democratic in the first place.  Worse, Musil has raised as much money as his two conservative opponents combined, although each of them has better credentials and more hair than the amorphously moderate Musil.

To make their strategy work, Musil and Gamble are both counting on the emergence of one-day Republicans.  Friends of their campaigns are openly targeting  Democrats and Independents and teaching them how to vote Republican in the primary.  This corrosive strategy is endorsed by The Star's lead Johnson County columnist, Mike Hendricks, who encourages the reader to "become an instant Republican" and tells him how to do so.

But in the same column, Hendricks gives away the game.  In an oddly indiscreet moment, he discourages his readers from educating themselves on the issues. and urges them instead to just go vote 

After all, why bother with education?  The election's not about science.  It's about self-image, a shaky thing hereabouts at least since Dorothy.   To be sure, neither Gamble nor Musil ever talk about science.  A ballroom full of their campaign contributors will not have read more than three books among them on either side of the unsettled evolution debate. For all they know or care, the "Cambrian explosion" could be a new French cheese dip. 

Holloway supporters, on the other hand, read voraciously and care a lot.  In the last decade the university-based movement organized under the rubric of "Intelligent Design" has given grass roots Creationism an intellectual shot in the arm.   Although they differ deeply on their approach to evidence, the two movements share a keen knowledge of Darwinism and the holes therein.  These holes are large and growing larger.  Like Freudianism and Marxism before it,  Darwinism may be on the verge of collapse.

It won't happen overnight.  The science establishment and its friends in the media know they can evoke the Scopes paradigm and scare the elite with the bogeyman (bogeywoman?) of Christian fundamentalism.  But Holloway does not stereotype easily.  This artlessly handsome, former inner-city school teacher--perhaps the only woman in recent Johnson County history to let her hair go gray--begins her TV ads with the defiant line, "I want evolution to be taught in the schools." 

Like 68% of Americans in a recent Gallup Poll, George W. included, Holloway would like to see evolution and design theories taught side by side.  The self-declared "progressive" camp won't hear of it.  As Robert Boston of Americans United for Seperation of Church and State pontificated during a recent visit, "A choice between truth and error is not a choice worth having."

As is evident here on the ground, the Scopes paradigm has shifted in Kansas.  In their desperation to prop up Darwinism and shut intelligent design out of the classroom, in their blind submission to the authority of the science establishment and their willingness to sic the ACLU on those who would challenge it, local progressives and their influential friends have finally become what they long have ridiculed--the Tennessee legislature. 



Posted: July 28, 2000
Cashill Newsletter
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Editor's note: Jack Cashill is Ingram's Executive Editor and has affiliated with the magazine for 25 years. He can be reached at


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