Colin Moyer, a senior at Curtis High School in University Place, has been awarded a 2009 ACLU Youth Activist Scholarship for challenging the teaching of a form of creationism in his science class and for promoting freedom of speech at his school. Moyer is one of 16 students across the nation to receive the award.
The ACLU awards scholarships annually to honor the efforts of graduating seniors who have demonstrated a strong commitment to civil liberties through student activism. In addition to a $12,500 college scholarship, Moyer will be invited to participate in a Youth Activist Institute at the National ACLU office in New York.
“Colin Moyer is a thoughtful, articulate activist who showed courage in taking a stand. He ensured that students would receive a science education based on science, not religion,” said Kathleen Taylor, Executive Director of the ACLU of Washington.
Moyer was shocked when his popular tenth-grade biology teacher began teaching a view of evolution that focused more on religious views than on scientific facts and didn’t tolerate criticism. “A class that was usually interactive was suddenly single-sided,” said Moyer. “Students were not allowed to ask questions, and there were no textbooks or tests.”
Moyer began to read books and articles on evolution. He soon realized that his teacher was promoting creationism in the guise of “intelligent design,” the same approach that was ruled unconstitutional in a 2005 case in Dover, Pennsylvania (Kitzmiller v. Dover).
Moyer contacted the ACLU and then the National Center for Science Education for advice. With their support, he worked out an agreement with the school administration. The issue was quickly resolved, and the teacher was forced to stop teaching intelligent design.
Encouraged by his success, Moyer then tackled freedom of speech at the school, where the official student newspaper had ceased publication. He recruited a student staff and produced an alternative newspaper, The Viking Underground . Moyer helped finance its publication costs out of savings from a summer job and by selling his letterman’s jacket.
“We shared a passion for the truth and a belief that the student voice has a right to be heard in the community,” said Moyer.
The paper has been recognized by the Student Press Law Center for exercising and protecting students’ civil liberties. Moyer currently helps other student journalists whose newspapers are being censored and subjected to prior review.
Moyer’s philosophy is to work quietly but with determination. “For me, being an activist is not about a personal agenda or making a scene; it is about defending civil liberties and getting the job done,” he said.