The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to religious freedom, but it does not permit religious theory to be taught as science in the public school system.
That reading of the Constitution has been backed by several U.S. Supreme Court decisions, each striking down attempts to teach creationism — the belief that God created the universe and humankind — alongside evolution in science class.
In 1987, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional Louisiana's Creationism Act that prohibited the teaching of evolution unless it was paired with teachings in creationism.
Such precedent would seemingly extinguish efforts to teach creationism in public schools. But this year the debate has been reignited locally and nationally by candidates who have expressed support for teaching creationism or "intelligent design" alongside evolution.
Proponents argue that students should be allowed to consider both theories.
Opponents say teaching creationism, a religious belief, is designed to undermine the proven science of evolution, thus confusing students and potentially indoctrinating them in a specific state-sponsored religion and violating the Constitution's guarantee of religious freedom.
The creationism debate has recent context. In 2008, 11 years after the Supreme Court struck down Louisiana's Creationism Act in Edwards v. Aguillard, that state's Legislature passed a bill permitting local school districts to create curriculum that allows "critical thinking" and "objective discussion" about evolution.
The National Center for Science Education, which describes the provision as a backdoor approach to subvert evolution science, is contesting the law.
The law doesn't mention creationism or intelligent design. However, it appears to have emboldened pro-creationists. According to a July 24 report in The Advocate, in Louisiana, the Livingstone Parish School Board discussed adding creationism to the district's curriculum.
Here's where gubernatorial candidates stand on the issue.
Eliot Cutler, 64, independent
Cutler said it's unacceptable to teach creationism in public schools.
"I believe the government should not be making rules for religion and religion should not be making rules for government," he said.
John Jenkins, 58, independent
Jenkins opposes creationism being taught in public schools.
"Whose religion are we talking about?" he said. "People who follow Islam have a different idea about creation than those who follow Judaism, and on and on. Whose creation are we talking about? No, no, I wouldn't support that. Not at all."
Libby Mitchell, 70, Democrat
Mitchell said creationism is an appropriate discussion in church, but not in the public school system.
"There's no scientific evidence to support (creationism)," she said.
Paul LePage, 61, Republican
LePage's stance on creationism has generated the most controversy.
His position has become more ambiguous since he stated he would support a local school board adding creationism to its curriculum during a debate before the Republican primary.
"Whether it should be taught in school or not is not my decision," he said recently. "I'm not running for school board and I'm not running for pope, and I'm not running for commissioner of education. I'm running for governor. My feeling is creationism is something that should be taught in philosophy, evolution and science. Now whether it should be taught in school or not, it's not mine to decide."
He added, "Knowledge is power. The more they know, the better decisions they make in life."
LePage noted that creationism wasn't high on his agenda.
Scott Moody, 51, independent
Moody opposes teaching creationism in public schools. He was critical of LePage for expressing support for it.
"It concerns me about a person that would propose that," Moody said. "The governor isn't the guy who shoots from the hip. I kind of challenge the person, Mayor LePage, for saying that because, OK, you want to have creationism? OK, which bible, which religion?"
Moody added, "It's a shallow idea that to me exposes a little shoot-from-the-hip-type personality that doesn't always provide the best leadership."
Kevin Scott, 42, independent
Scott, a self-described Christian, said creationism taught at the university level might be appropriate, but not in public schools.
"The grade schools don't teach Hinduism and all the other religions, so why should a particular religion be taught?" Scott said.