April 2023 Church & State Magazine - April 2023

Bill Promoting ‘Intelligent Design’ In W. Va. Public Schools Fails To Pass


A bill that would have allowed public schools in West Virginia to teach “intelligent design” (ID) in science classes died after it failed to pass the state House of Representatives before the legislative session ended.

Senate Bill 619 passed the West Virginia Senate Feb. 25 on a 26-3 vote. But when the measure moved to the House, it failed to gain traction and was never scheduled for a hearing.

A multi-ethnic group of high school students are working in a science class together. They are looking at slides in biology class through a microscope.

Standing up for science: W.Va. legislators reject ‘intelligent design’ (Getty Images)

Americans United, which sent a letter to West Virginia legislators in late February explaining the problems with the bill and urging them to vote against SB 619, hailed the proposal’s death.

“We at Americans United are thankful that West Virginia public school students won’t be forced to sit through lessons on intelligent design creationism — an inherently religious doctrine that has no place in public schools,” said Rachel Laser, Americans United president and CEO. “Public schools are not Sunday schools; their purpose is to teach students sound science, not preach religious beliefs.

“While the intelligent design bill failed this session, it’s alarming that the bill got as much traction as it did,” Laser added. “The bill’s supporters blatantly ignored the Constitution’s promise to separate church and state — the protector of religious freedom — and would have flouted decades of court precedent that bars the teaching of religious doctrine in public schools, including an Americans United case that successfully proved intelligent design was simply creationism rebranded.”

ID posits that humans are so complex that they must have a designer — and that figure is usually identified as God. In a 2005 decision, a federal district court so resoundingly struck down a Pennsylvania school district’s attempts to insert intelligent design in public school science classes that there have been no successful attempts to teach it in public schools since. 

In Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, brought by Americans United, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Center for Science Education, now retired U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III, a George W. Bush appointee, ruled that “ID is not science,” that “ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents,” and that “it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom.” 

Jones’ decision followed a string of decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts that also barred the teaching of creationism in public schools.

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