Creationism Corralled: Eight States Reject Creationist Measures

Instead of trying to come up with new ways to fool the courts, these lawmakers should be coming up with ways to actually help students learn what they need for real-world success.

We always like to report positives, and this week the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) delivered some very good news: legislation aimed at pushing creationism in public schools failed in eight states this year.

The bills ranged from subtly promoting so-called “academic freedom” to openly attacking evolution by offering “equal treatment” for creationism and “intelligent design.” They’re all bad ideas intended to inject religion into biology classes, and we’re very happy to see they failed.

Our friends at NCSE provided a rundown of these bills, most of which never got very far along in the voting process.

Here are some highlights:

Virginia had perhaps the most insidious bill. Senate Joint Resolution 287 was a state constitutional amendment with sweeping religious provisions, including one that said “no student in public schools shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his religious beliefs.” That measure died in committee.

In fact, most of these bad bills never got past committee, as happened in Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Missouri (two bills), Montana, Oklahoma and Texas.

The measures in Arizona and Colorado were run-of-the-mill “academic freedom” schemes, and one  in Oklahoma would have permitted teachers to “help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.”  

The Montana measure was similar, seeking to promote “critical thinking regarding controversial scientific theories" such as “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, random mutation, natural selection, DNA, and fossil discoveries.”

Still other legislation was aimed at higher education. In Texas, HB 285 said “[a]n institution of higher education may not discriminate against or penalize in any manner… a faculty member or student based on the faculty member’s or student’s conduct of research relating to the theory of intelligent design...”

Just one bill, Oklahoma’s HB 1674, made it out of committee before meeting its end on the House floor. That measure would have encouraged teachers to “help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught."

We’re glad to see these bills aren’t faring too well, but there is still a long way to go here. Just the fact that these same measures come up every year shows they have quite a bit of support.

Plus, a recent survey showed 19 percent of Pennsylvania public school science teachers believe in creationism, 13 percent back “intelligent design” and five percent said they were “not sure” about which theories they support or marked support for “other.”

We know that the Religious Right and its allies in statehouses don’t give up easily, but I really have to wonder what their goal is with these creationism bills. Yes, they have gotten progressively cleverer by disguising their handiwork as “academic freedom,” but it’s all still the same sort of thing that the Supreme Court has already struck down.

Instead of trying to come up with new ways to fool the courts, these lawmakers should be coming up with ways to actually help students learn what they need for real-world success.

P.S. While these bills may have failed, we are still struggling with many church-state issues. Check out our State Action Center for updates.