Anti-Science Bill Dead For Now

Image of church and state capitol building

A bill that essentially attacks the teaching of evolution and the scientific method has apparently died quietly in the legislature, and that’s good news for the state’s public school students and its overall intellectual community.

But supporters of the anti-science measure—House Bill 1674—could still use the amendment process or other political moves this session to get the bill passed and signed into law as they strive to codify their religious views in the state’s education curriculum.

Meanwhile, House Bill 1940, the so-called Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act, which encourages religious expression in schools on different levels, was overwhelmingly approved by the House Thursday. The lopsided vote, 79 to 13 in favor of the bill, was discouraging for Oklahomans opposed to religious intrusion in the government sphere.

The anti-evolution bill, HB 1674, had passed the House Education Committee in a close 9 to 8 vote earlier in the session, but it never made it to the full House for a vote. Legislators, however, could still use the language of the bill in another measure, which was attempted last year, or use other legislative rules or protocols to pass it.

Sponsored by Gus Blackwell, a Laverne Republican, the bill argues that topics, such as evolution, global warming and cloning can cause controversy, and teachers should teach their weaknesses and strengths. The problem here is that the underlying science of these subjects is absolutely not controversial among scientists, researchers and academics. The controversy is generated by some religious people, who feel subjects such as evolution contradict their world view, specifically their belief in creationism. I wrote about the bill here. Similar bills have been passed in Louisiana and Tennessee.

The Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act was initially introduced this session by state Rep. Mike Reynolds, an Oklahoma City Republican, but a committee substitute measure, HB 1940, that included its language, was later offered by state Rep. John Bennett, a Sallisaw Republican. That was the bill that passed the House by an overwhelming majority Thursday. I wrote about the initial bill here.

The bill essentially allows overt religious expression by students at school events and prohibits teachers from penalizing students for religious views expressed in their school work. The bill is couched in the language of civil rights and anti-discrimination, but it's not difficult to see its intent as an effort to bring religious views into classrooms to, among other things, challenge the crucial scientific method, a foundation of medical science.

Earlier, Bennett said this about why such a bill is needed: “Religious expression is being treated as second-class speech in many schools.”

Let’s be clear: In Oklahoma, even at some schools, it’s really the secularists and people of religious faiths other than Christianity that face discrimination of varying degrees, not, say, Southern Baptists.

The bill has the potential to turn our public schools into seething cauldrons of factional conflict as students try to prove or argue their religious views are the only valid views. What’s going to happen to the basic curriculum in that setting? Will teachers feel intimidated? The bill only creates problems.

The Senate should kill HB 1940. If it doesn’t, Gov. Mary Fallin should veto it.