Three out of four Republican candidates for Texas lieutenant governor said at a debate in Waco on Thursday evening that creationism should be taught in the state's public schools.
All four men in the race said religion should play a larger role in public education when asked where they stood on the issue during the event hosted by the McClennan County Republican Party and broadcast by KCEN-TV. But only one, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, stopped short of endorsing creationism in the state's curriculum.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said he happens "to believe in creationism."
"I believe that in fairness we need to expose students to both sides of this," he said. "That's why I've supported including in our textbooks the discussion of the biblical account of life and creation, and I understand there are a lot of people who disagree with me, and believe in evolution."
Both state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples echoed Dewhurst's remarks, saying that as Christians they believe students should learn the biblical view of creation in school.
"Our students ... must really be confused. They go to Sunday School on Sunday and then they go into school on Monday and we tell them they can't talk about God," said Patrick. "I'm sick and tired of a minority in our country who want us to turn our back on God."
Patterson did not mention creationism in his response directly but said he thought schools had focused too much on political correctness out of what he called a mistaken belief that the U.S. Constitution mandated the separation of church and state.
"Show me where that's in the Constitution, because it's not in the Constitution," he said. "I see nothing wrong with standing up at least for a moment of silence, let those who wish to pray pray in their own faith. I see nothing wrong with having a prayer before a high school football game."
In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Edwards v. Aguillard that requiring the teaching of creationism in public schools was the equivalent of advancing a particular religion and therefore violated the Constitution.
During his 2012 bid for the Republican presidential nomination, Gov. Rick Perry said on the campaign trail that evolution was a theory that has "got some gaps in it." He said Texas students learned creationism and evolution side-by-side in the state's public schools — a claim that some education experts said was misleading because creationism is not specifically included in state curriculum.
Texas does requires public school students to be able to understand "all sides" of scientific theories like evolution, but not that creationism be taught. The State Board of Education is now in the final stages of approving updated textbooks covering the science standards, and the debate over evolution has resurfaced again.
The winner of the March Republican primary for lieutenant governor will face state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, a San Antonio Democrat, in the general election, as well as the winners of the Green and Libertarian party nominations.