by Eric Worrall
I wonder if there is a case for challenging compulsory climate studies on the grounds that belief in catastrophic climate change is a state religion?
‘Face it head on’: Connecticut makes climate change studies compulsory
Enshrining the curriculum in law insulates the subject from budget cuts and culture wars related to the climate crisis
Sat 17 Dec 2022 19.00 AEDT
Starting next July, Connecticut will become one of the first states in America to mandate climate change studies across its public schools as part of its science curriculum.
The new law passed earlier this year comes as part of the state’s attempts to address concerns over the short duration – and in some cases, absence – of climate change studies in classrooms. The requirement follows in the footsteps of New Jersey, which in 2020 became the first state to mandate K-12 climate change education across its school districts.
Currently, nearly 90% of public schools across Connecticut include climate change studies in their curriculums. However, by mandating it as part of state law from grades five to 12, climate education will effectively become protected from budget cuts and climate-denying political views at a time when education in the US has become a serious culture war battleground.
There is legal precedent for considering belief in catastrophic climate change might be a religion.
In 2009, a judge in Britain ruled in favour of plaintiff Tim Nicholson in an unfair dismissal case. The Judge found that Tim’s climate beliefs were entitled to the same legal protection as a person of religious faith. Tim was suing his employer for dismissing him on the grounds of his beliefs in catastrophic climate change. “… In a significant decision today , a judge found Nicholson’s views on the environment were so deeply held that they were entitled to the same protection as religious convictions, and ruled that an employment tribunal should hear his claim that he was sacked because of his beliefs. …”.
Although Tim’s case occurred in Britain, sometimes US courts reference legal precedent from other nations with similar legal systems, when those foreign legal systems are viewed by US courts as a legitimate source of jurisprudence.
How would a judicial ruling that CAGW is a religion help children in Connecticut?
There is another precedent which might be useful. In the early noughties, there was a push in Kansas to teach Intelligent Design alongside or instead of the theory of evolution in biology classes. In 2005 Bobby Henderson created the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and used this alleged religion to demand equal access to Intelligent Design course syllabuses, on the grounds that teaching just one religious perspective in Intelligent Design courses violates the separation of church and state.
A judicial ruling that CAGW is a state religion might similarly be used by climate skeptics to demand equal access to the syllabus of climate religious studies courses in states like Connecticut.