On the eve of the 203rd anniversary of Charles Darwin's birthday, lawmakers in at least four states are taking steps to hinder the teaching of evolution in public schools, while other bills would do the same without naming evolution outright.
- In the Indiana Senate, a bill would allow school districts to”require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life within the school corporation.” That bill has already passed a statehouse committee and was scheduled for a vote on Jan 31.
- The “Missouri Standard Science Act” would require the equal treatment of evolution and “intelligent design,” an idea that the universe was created by an unnamed “designer.” A second bill would require teachers to encourage students “to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues, including biological and chemical evolution.”
- A bill in the Oklahoma Senate would require the state's board of education to help teachers promote “critical thinking, logical analysis, open and objective discussion of scientific theories including, but not limited to, evolution, the origin of life, global warming, and human cloning” if a local school district makes that request.
- A second bill in the New Hampshire House would require science teachers to instruct students that “proper scientific inquir(y) results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established.”
- A bill in Virginia would make it illegal for state colleges to require a class that conflicts with a student's religious views. Critics say that would enable a student to receive a biology degree, for example, without studying evolution if he or she objected to it.
- A second bill in Indiana would require the state board of education to draft rules about the teaching of ideas in science class that cannot be proven by evidence — a clear doorway for the teaching of creationism and intelligent design, critics say.
While all the bills have drawn the attention of several large atheist groups including the Center for Inquiry and the National Atheist Party, Bergevin's bill in New Hampshire has raised the most eyebrows.
“Evolution is not just for atheists, and has been accepted as fact by many religious institutions, including the Catholic Church,” Silverman said. “It is clearly an attempt to create religious discussion in science class, and to somehow make science 'not for believers.'”
Even if the bill were to become law, some expect it to be short-lived.
“In the unlikely event it would pass, it would quickly be struck down by the courts as unconstitutional,” said Rob Boston, a senior policy analyst at the Washington-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
“It is just warmed-over creationism, which the Supreme Court has already said is unconstitutional, and the government cannot require anyone to stand up and explain where they stand on a religion or a philosophy.”
Tracy Simmons is an award winning journalist specializing in religion reporting, digital entrepreneurship and social journalism. In her 15 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti.
Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas and Connecticut. Currently she serves as the executive director of SpokaneFAVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Wash. She is also a Scholarly Assistant Professor at Washington State University.