Public Schools

‘Intelligent Design’ Bill Threatens Science Education In West Virginia

  Rob Boston

As my colleague Mary Cugini noted on Monday, it’s Public Schools Week, a time to urge all Americans to rally around and support the public education system that 90% of young people attend.

Legislators have a special role to play by ensuring that our public schools are adequately funded and that the teachers have the resources they need to do their jobs.

Unfortunately, some lawmakers are determined to throw sand in the gears. A case in point is West Virginia, where the state Senate has passed a bill promoting “intelligent design” (ID) in public schools.

‘Intelligent Design’ Is Relabeled Creationism

S.B. 619 would allow public school teachers to “teach intelligent design as a theory of how the universe and/or humanity came to exist.”

There are a lot of problems with this. First off, ID, which posits that humans are so complex that they must be the product of a designer (i.e. God), is a religious concept, not a scientific one. Indeed, intelligent design is rejected by the vast majority of biologists and scientists working in related fields. Teaching it in a public school is unconstitutional.

Teaching ID also does a disservice to students. Because it’s not science, ID isn’t taught in public universities. Students who learn it in public secondary schools are only going to be at a disadvantage when they arrive in freshman biology class.

Unfortunately, the Senate voted 26-3 to pass the bill over the weekend. The battle now moves to the state House of Representatives. Americans United has sent a letter to the members of the House Education Committee outlining the legal problems with teaching ID in public schools.

A Warning From Americans United

“[F]ederal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have consistently and repeatedly held that public schools cannot teach creationism,” asserts AU’s letter. “Public schools are likewise prohibited from teaching intelligent design, which one federal court described as ‘nothing less than the progeny of creationism’ that ‘cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.’”

AU also reminded lawmakers that the public school district in Dover, Pa., had to pay more than $1 million in plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees after Americans United, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the National Center for Science Education and the legal firm of Pepper Hamilton successfully sued the district after its board voted to implement ID in local schools.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that in West Virginia. The best way to ensure that it doesn’t is to let this misguided bill die quickly.

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