Kern Spurned: Oklahoma Legislator’s Backdoor Creationism Bill Bounced

Under Sally Kern’s creationism bill, any idea – no matter how far-out or discredited – could have been dragged into the classroom.

Oklahoma is one of the most religiously conservative states in the country. Fundamentalists have a strong political presence there, and “culture war” battles are common. This is the state, you’ll recall, that recently tried to ban Sharia law – even though no Muslims are attempting to impose it there.

It’s always a pleasant surprise, then, when Oklahoma legislators resist Religious Right pressure and do the right thing. And yesterday they did.

The Education Committee of the state House of Representatives voted 9-7 against a bill that would have opened the door to “intelligent design” and other creationist concepts in school science classes.

The measure, H.B. 1551, was sponsored by Sally Kern, the infamous state representative known for her gay bashing and insistence that the United States was founded to be a “Christian nation.” (Naturally, Kern – a Republican from Oklahoma City – is a hero to the Religious Right.)

The Oklahoman reported that Rep. Fred Jordan (R-Jenks) had some concerns about Kern’s bill.

“This bill is running circles around itself, and it’s going to make it harder and harder for teachers to know what to do in the classroom,” Jordan said. “We’re opening the door for teachers to kind of say whatever they want to say, whether it’s religious issues, creation, evolution. I really feel like we’re opening the door to where any and everything can come in.”

Bingo, Rep. Jordan! That’s exactly what would have happened had Kern’s measure become law. And the things that would have come running through the door include biblical literalism masquerading as biology and bad science education.

Kern insisted that her so-called “Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act” had nothing to do with creationism. We’ve heard that one before.

In fact, her proposal would have given teachers a legal right to introduce various ideas relating to issues “such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning” with the alleged aim of “helping 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.”

This is all code language for creationism advocacy. Under Kern’s bill, any idea – no matter how far-out or discredited – could have been dragged into the classroom.

David Grow, a retired zoologist with the Oklahoma City Zoo, testified before the committee, explaining why the bill is bad public policy.

“What they’re considering science is not recognized as science by the scientific community,” Grow told The Oklahoman. “And they will be introducing intelligent design ideas and criticisms of evolution based on unfactual claims about evolution....This isn’t about science; this is anti-evolution.”

Kern’s bill isn’t totally dead yet; she can ask the committee to bring it up again later this year or next. We definitely need to keep an eye on things.

Also, the creationist threat is alive and well in other states. Tennessee legislators are considering a bill similar to the Kern measure. AU's Tennessee Chapter is hard at work opposing it.

I’m glad Oklahoma lawmakers rejected Kern’s misguided proposal. Kudos to the Oklahoma residents who stood up for sound science.

But we know that this fight is not over. One thing I’ve learned about the creationists over the years is that they never give up. Even in the face of courtroom loses and legislative defeats, they just retool and come back again – usually with a new name. “Creation science” became “intelligent design” which became the “theory of abrupt appearance” which became “evidence against evolution.”

You could say their strategy is evolving. Ours must as well. It’s great to see Kern’s bill flounder, but don’t let your guard down. The defense of church-state separation and sound science require constant vigilance.