May 2024 Church & State Magazine - May 2024

W. Va. legislators pass bill critics say opens door to creationism


West Virginia legislators in March passed an unnecessary piece of legislation that critics say could open the door to creationism in the state’s public schools.

As originally introduced last year, the bill overtly sought to allow the state’s science teachers to offer instruction about “intelligent design” creationism (ID).

Such instruction in public schools is clearly unconstitutional. Americans United and its allies won a landmark federal court ruling against the teaching of ID in the public schools of Dover, Pa., in 2005. Perhaps aware that pushing ID in public schools could land schools in court, West Virginia lawmakers in the House of Delegates did not vote on a similar bill last year.

But earlier this year, its sponsor, state Sen. Amy Grady (R-Mason), retooled the bill by removing direct references to intelligent design. It now states that “no local school board, school superintendent, or school principal shall prohibit a public school classroom teacher from discussing and answering questions from students about scientific theories of how the universe and/or life came to exist.”

This version has passed both chambers of the legislature and was later signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice (R).

ID is not a legitimate scientific theory, but that doesn’t mean some teachers won’t try to use this legislation as an excuse to teach it. Proponents of the idea, which posits that humans were designed by an intelligent force (such as God), insist that ID is scientific despite the complete lack of evidence for it. AU fears they will use this legislation to slip ID into science classes.

AU’s Policy Department joined the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia in a letter to state House Speaker Roger Hanshaw (R) warning him of the bill’s defects.

“The federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have repeatedly held that teaching creationism in public schools and other efforts to suppress or undermine evolution education are unconstitutional — no matter what form they may take,” observed the letter.

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