Intelligent Design

Proposed Law Sanctions Religious Intrusion In State Schools

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(A coalition of prominent state leaders could help educate the public about sensible immigration reform in Oklahoma and the country. Read DocHoc's commentary this week in the Oklahoma Gazette.)

(Who exactly are these pastafarians? Where do they come from? What do they want? Click on the image to the right to learn about them and their new religion, which is sweeping the nation.)

The Christian fundamentalist movement here will again try to turn Oklahoma schools into evangelical training academies in which students can challenge teachers about basic scientific facts based solely on their religious beliefs.

According to media reports, state Rep. Mike Reynolds (R-Oklahoma City) says he will introduce a bill called the Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act this coming legislative session.

Reynolds wants schools to adopt policies that will allow students to express religious ideas in assignments without penalty and enable them to organize religious events on campuses.

In other words, students could challenge evolution theory, the scientific method and any teaching they thought conflicted with their religious beliefs. Under the proposed bill, it appears, teachers could not give low grades to students who simply refused to do an assignment based on their religious faith. So the deal is students can just use the Platinum Fundamentalist Christian Card for an "A." Priceless.

This bill appears to be yet another attempt to challenge the theory of evolution, which simply claims life forms have changed over the centuries. It is obviously related to the so-called intelligent design movement, an offshoot of creationism, which argues the world is so complicated a designer (wink, wink, the Christian God) must have created the world.

There are many things wrong about this bill. Perhaps, the most important issue is the bill would ultimately allow fundamentalist Christians, not educators, to determine the public school curriculum here. Our state's and nation's students already lag behind students in other industrialized countries when it comes to science. It also has the potential to create unnecessary religious conflict in schools if students who belong to the state’s marginalized religions—any religion besides Christianity—express their “viewpoint” as well.

All these proposed religious bills in recent years make Oklahoma seem backwards and intolerant. The Oklahoma leadership has again failed the state for not speaking up clearly and decisively about the pressing need for an appropriate separation between religion and education in our schools. Political acts like this one tell any young, rational and intelligent person in the state to leave here as soon as possible.

The Daily Oklahoman editorial page, which will probably oppose Reynolds’s bill, will actually do nothing realistic to stop such legislation. The state's largest newspaper could call for the legislator’s removal from elected office or stop blindly supporting politicians such as U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, whose senate career has been based on waging a personal war against science. But it will not do so. Meanwhile, the rich oil and business executives here need the fundamentalist Christians to vote against their own financial interests to further enrich themselves on the backs of hard working Oklahomans.

According to Vic Hutchison, a professor emeritus of zoology at the University of Oklahoma and a member of Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education, “. . . This is a bad bill copied from a law passed and signed by the governor last year in Texas. It would allow some back-door introduction of religious material into schools where it does not belong, including creationism in science courses, etc. Students already have the right now to participate in a variety of religious activities . . . “

Hutchison, who made his comments in a recent email to OESE supporters, argues further, “The proposed bill repeats these rights, but adds some ‘slick’ wording that could lead to religion in places that should not be allowed. The bill in Texas was fought hard by several organizations such as the Texas Freedom Network, Texas Classroom Teachers Association and other educational and science groups.”

Hutchison says, “This bill should be fought by all who value the separation of church and state.”