It has been more than 25 years since the Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law that mandated religious instruction in science classes, yet lawmakers in many states are still pushing ahead with attempts to force creationist concepts into the public schools.  

The 2013 legislative session has just begun, and there are already anti-evolution bills (in some cases more than one) circulating in Missouri, Montana, Colorado, Oklahoma and Indiana.

According to our friends at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), the latest bill is Missouri’s HB 291, a whopping 3,000-word manifesto masquerading as an attempt to provide a “standard science” curriculum for public elementary and secondary schools. It also seeks to create introductory science courses in public colleges and universities and would require those institutions to give “the equal treatment of science instruction regarding evolution and intelligent design.”

The bill even includes an incorrectly alphabetized glossary of bogus terms such as “biological intelligent design,” which is defined as “a hypothesis that the complex form and function observed in biological structures are the result of intelligence and, by inference, that the origin of biological life and the diversity of all original species on earth are the result of intelligence.”

Unfortunately, HB 291 is just the latest attempt in Missouri to create a science curriculum that would teach creationism and evolution side by side. NCSE noted that this bill is very similar to one that failed in 2004 and another that flopped in 2012. 

The creationism proposals in Montana, Colorado, Oklahoma and Indiana aren’t much different from the Missouri plot, although some of those pretend to promote “academic freedom.”

The freedom to do what, you might ask? Teach creationism in public schools, of course.

As my colleague Rob Boston noted in a recent piece for Alternet, fundamentalist Christians have been on a crusade to force Bible-based creationism into public schools for decades. As the article shows, the Religious Right has evolved in its approach but not its goal, a fact not lost on those who follow this issue.

“It’s ironic that creationist strategies continue to evolve,” NCSE Executive Director Eugenie Scott told the Joplin (Mo.) Independent. “At first, creationists tried to ban the teaching of evolution in the public schools altogether. When they were no longer able to do so, they tried to ‘balance’ it with the teaching of biblical creationism, or scientific creationism, or intelligent design.

“After the Kitzmiller trial in 2005,” she continued, “in which teaching intelligent design was found by a federal court to be unconstitutional, there’s been a shift toward belittling evolution – as just a theory, or as in need of critical analysis, or as the subject of scientific controversy.”  

The good news is that the courts have been diligent in barring religious indoctrination in science classes, and that stance has been upheld in multiple rulings.

And creationist bills have faced relatively tough sledding. In the case of Missouri, the 2012 creationism bill never got past committee, so that bodes well for the 2013 reincarnation.

It is clear that we must keep a diligent watch on this issue, however, because Religious Right forces are relentless. And these bills pop up time and time again. Religious Right zealots don’t care what the courts say, and they will keep trying to tweak these bills until they can manage to get one passed.

Creationism bills are bad for education, and they violate the constitutional principle of church-state separation. We need to reiterate those points lest legislators make a big mistake.