Opposition Mounts Against Creationism Amendment
An Oklahoma senator has made a fresh attempt to bring creationist ideas as a challenge to evolution theory into the state’s public science classrooms.
State Sen. Steve Russell, an Oklahoma City Republican, has filed a floor amendment to House Bill 2341, which originally dealt with textbook adoptions.
The amendment inserts the language of House Bill 1551 into the bill. HB 1551, originally sponsored by controversial state Rep. Sally Kern, an Oklahoma City Republican, finds certain topics, such as biological evolution, can cause controversy and requires school districts “to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies." The bill, passed by the House, didn’t receive a hearing in the Senate Education Committee and thus was presumed to be killed for the session.
Kern’s bill and now Russell’s floor amendment are widely seen by science educational organizations, such as the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), as an attempt to introduce creationist ideas through the faux science of intelligent design as a valid challenge to the theory of evolution, a bedrock of scientific knowledge. Intelligent design, which has been invalidated by a federal court, holds that the natural world is so complicated that a “designer” (i.e., wink, wink, a god) created it.
The bill and amendment also cite the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning as topics that can cause controversy.
I’ve written about House Bill 1551 here, here and here, noting that it would make Oklahoma students less prepared for college, damage the state’s image and make it difficult to expand the state’s medical research base and lead to an even greater shortage of doctors here. It’s also a clear example of religious intrusion in public schools, which some people, including myself, see as a violation of the separation between church and state as outlined in the U.S. Constitution.
Russell’s move to insert the language of one bill in another bill is fairly typical political maneuvering for the Oklahoma Legislature, although it seems especially disingenuous in this case given the public and media attention received by HB 1551. Many of those who opposed the bill were not even aware that Russell had made the floor amendment until a few days after he did so.
One Senate sponsor of HB 2341 is state Sen. John Ford, a Bartlesville Republican, who is chairperson of the Senate Education Committee, which didn’t hear HB 1551, effectively killing it. It’s uncertain how Ford or other Senate leaders will respond to Russell’s amendment.
The bill has yet to be placed on the Senate’s voting agenda so there’s time for those opposed to HB 1551 and now HB 2341 to contact senators and express their views, according to Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE), which issued the following action alert:
We have just found out that Senator Steve Russell has filed a floor amendment to HB 2341, a bill to delay textbook purchases because of lack of funding, that would attach HB 1551 ("Academic Freedom Bill") to that bill. Please contact senators John Ford, 521-5634, firstname.lastname@example.org and Judy Eason McIntyre, 521-5598, email@example.com, senate sponsors of bill, and your own senator, and urge them to defeat the amendment. Emails are especially encouraged. Mention that the amendment is not germane to the bill. The amendment will be considered when the bill is heard on the Senate floor.
Here are the email addresses for the Senators:
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OESE has fought against bills like HB 1551 and now HB 2341 for more than a decade, and one of its members, Victor Hutchison, George Lynn Cross Research Professor Emeritus in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oklahoma, worked especially hard to organize and present opposition to the original bill.
National organizations opposed to the bill include NCSE, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the National Center for Science Education, the National Earth Science Teachers Association, and the National Biology Teachers Association. State organizations opposed to the bill include OESE, the Oklahoma Academy of Science, the Oklahoma State Teachers Association, the OKC and Tulsa Interfaith Alliances and Americans United for Separation of Church and State.