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, email@example.com and Judy Eason McIntyre, 521-5598, firstname.lastname@example.org, 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:
email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com;firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org;email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com;firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org;email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com;firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org;email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com;firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org;email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com;firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org;email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com;firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
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.
(Update: Apparently the language of House Bill 1551 has made its way in the form of an amendment to a bill dealing with textbooks. The floor amendment to House Bill 2341 was made by state Sen. Steve Russell, an Oklahoma City Republican. The Senate could vote on the bill as early as today.)
A bill designed to bring creationist ideas into the state’s public science classrooms failed to get a committee hearing Monday.
House Bill 1551, originally sponsored by controversial state Rep. Sally Kern, an Oklahoma City Republican, would have required schools to assist teachers in presenting information about what it deems scientific controversies, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.
Essentially, the bill would have allowed religious precepts under the guise of faux science as a challenge to evolution and undoubtedly allowed misinformation about global warming in science classrooms. Among other things, it would have made Oklahoma students less prepared for college.
The Oklahoma House passed the measure, although more than 30 members didn’t even vote on it. It was then sent to the Senate Education Committee, where it didn’t receive a hearing on Monday. Since the committee will not meet again this year, the bill is effectively dead, according to Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE), which led the fight against the bill.
One OESE member, 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 measure.
But as Hutchison noted in an email message to those who helped him oppose the measure, “The creationists are not likely to stop.” He also noted that although similar measures have been presented since 1999, not one has made it into law.
Hutchison wrote, . . . “we must be prepared to continue the opposition in future years.”
Religious intrusion into government and schools—from bills attacking the theory of evolution to draconian anti-abortion measures—has become a major agenda of right-wing extremists in this country, and there’s no sign that it will end anytime soon.
As I’ve written in the past, a stopping point for fundamentalists may come when their beliefs and documents, such as the Bible or, say, the Book of Mormon, are carefully vetted and scrutinized. As Christian fundamentalists continue to work disingenuously and incrementally to turn the nation into a theocracy, their religion and worldview should become a major interest for everyone.
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, for example, was challenged recently at a rally by someone who questioned whether he believed in racist language contained in the Book of Mormon. Romney essentially avoided a direct answer, but later in the rally he did talk about serving as a Mormon pastor for 10 years.
Obviously, a former pastor running for president, who makes his religion a major part of his campaign, deserves to have his beliefs vetted and scrutinized. In fact, all the presidential candidates, including Barack Obama, should be asked hard questions about their religious beliefs given the current political landscape throughout the country. Do they believe in literal interpretations of the Bible’s Old Testament, for example, which condones slavery and female oppression?
As long as right-wing fundamentalists insist on theocracy, no political candidate should be allowed privacy when it comes to religious views.
Given the fundamentalists' push to inscribe their beliefs as science or as government policy, one has to wonder about the point of “faith” or the point of metaphorical readings of the Bible. Ultimately, the fundamentalists damage the credibility and viability of Christianity. Once that becomes clear to more moderate religious folks over the long term, there will be a correction. But, for now, the fight against religious zealotry continues in places like Oklahoma.
No one in the mainstream media here is going to say it outright, but the fact anti-abortion fanatic Randall Terry apparently won a Democratic delegate in the recent Oklahoma presidential primary is a great embarrassment to the state.
It’s one more small reason for companies not to locate here, for people not to move here, for students not to study here, for some of our best and brightest young people to move from Oklahoma and never come back. It’s the same old story, and “right-sizing” government by eliminating the income tax and cutting educational programs even more could make it worse.
Terry, the founder of extremist Operation Rescue, has conceded he won’t be the next president, according to media reports. Consequently, his anti-abortion, rogue candidacy mocks the electoral process just as his organization mocks the reproductive rights of women. But that doesn’t apparently matter to some 20,000 Oklahomans, who voted for him and ended up rewarding him with one of the 45 Democratic delegates from Oklahoma, according to media reports. Terry won 12 counties, all of them in rural areas, but this just shows the growing political and economic disparity between rural and urban Oklahoma. He won 18 percent of the total vote.
After the vote Tuesday, the national media labeled our state with the usual script. Read here and here. The subtext here is that we’re backwards and stupid and that we allow ourselves to be emotionally manipulated in voting against our best interests. The subtext is we’re easy, almost infantile, ready to follow and listen to anyone who might as well be reading from a prepared script when it comes to so-called Christian “values,” values filled with the obvious gaping contradictions and hypocrisy the vast majority of the industrialized world sees so clearly. Of course, this subtext refers to just one segment of Oklahoma, but it gets much sustained national media attention.
The one delegate means nothing, of course, and, frankly, it didn’t even matter on a real delegate-counting level whether President Barack Obama won Oklahoma or not. When it comes to the presidential election this year, Oklahoma is completely and utterly a state with no significance, not that it’s ever had any much significance in choosing the president. It’s also no big statement against abortion. After all, it’s only 20,000 or so votes. I don’t think it’s even a statement against Obama here in conservative Oklahoma.
I think it’s a result of a local media trope or let’s call it a “hoax,” led by The Oklahoman, that Obama is “the other” (and, yes, there are racist connotations), that somehow he’s not like the good folks here in Oklahoma, which is simply wrong. Republican presidential candidate and multi-millionaire Mitt Romney, anointed by The Oklahoman editorial page, is so far divorced from the Oklahoma reality in rural areas that it’s ridiculously obvious. As expected, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum won the GOP vote majority here, but he’s not going to win the presidency because he’s a man obsessed—just like Terry—with mandating the country accept his own narrow-minded social cultural and health values, especially when it comes to women’s issues. I don’t think Santorum really represents the reality of Oklahoma either. He’s a walking theocratic symbol here, nothing more.
Even as the parent company of The Oklahoman takes advantage of Obama’s Affordable Care act, it relentlessly criticizes the president. The newspaper’s editorial page, under the Gaylord family and now under Philip Anschutz, continues its robotic criticisms of Democrats, without any regard for what the GOP is now doing to the state. The Tulsa World is little better. It supported U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe in his most recent re-election attempt and thus helped to run off his opponent, former state Sen. Andrew Rice, an Oklahoma native and one of the brightest progressive politicians this state has ever seen. Inhofe remains ensconced here with his increasingly absurd and pathetic war against climate science, a war in which he has now claimed victory.
The editorial writers and editors at each of these newspapers should blame themselves whenever state Rep. Sally Kern or Inhofe or some other extremist GOP politician makes news on a national level and embarrasses the state. They should blame themselves for Randall Terry’s success here. Do these writers and editors have a conscience? Do they not see their role in the deteriorating drama of Oklahoma’s current, extremist political circus? They created the environment; it didn’t happen in a vacuum. They continue to shut down sustained counter arguments. The irony here, of course, is that by hurting the state’s economic development and growth, these people limit their careers and, yes, their salaries and benefits. That’s fine, but they also limit the careers and salaries of most thinking people in the state, and that’s not okay.
And, of course, they’re missing the larger GOP story here and elsewhere, which is the assault on women’s bodies and health. This assault could actually become the death knell for GOP extremism, such as the personhood movement, which would grant rights to fertilized eggs in women’s wombs, or the requirement women undergo an ultrasound before an abortion. Terry is a part of this assault on basic reproductive rights, and his tiny success here only serves to wake up more people to the reality of the Republican extremists, with all their contradictions.
Will the all-out attack on women serve as the breaking point for extremist, conservative ideology and the theocratic positions of so many of Oklahoma’s politicians?