Loopy Laws Looming Large (HB 1674, SB 758)
The focus of this blog series is to include you in the AU’s efforts to thwart the encroachment of religion in our governmental policies. Oklahoma City’s local chapter hopes that you are so energized, either by positivity or anxiety that you will speak about these issues with your friends, neighbors and maybe even your family. Though I wouldn’t bring politics up during family occasions because that is obviously begging for calamity.
We all should all consider discussing these bills with our believing friends because you may never know who understands the importance of the Establishment Clause in our nation’s constitution as well as our state’s constitution that guarantees our freedom of conscience. Maybe these acquaintances do not cite those particulars but nearly everyone understands what the slogan freedom of religion means and most everyone cherishes this. The idea that you might run across a believer that is every bit your ally is not ridiculous. I say this because many of the people that have worked incredibly hard towards this guiding principle are Christians including Jim Shields, Jim Huff and Bruce Prescott who continue to work for this cause today. These are some of our most strident allies because they understand that the wall that separates church and state both sustains our beautiful Union and allows its religious mosaic to prosper unbridled by governmental persecution. So please do not give up on advocating this for ideal before you even try.
These particular bills that I’m highlighting should be especially important to your believing and non-believing friends alike because these are about the encroachment of religious claims and beliefs into our state’s classrooms which threatens the integrity of our school system. There are currently two introduced bills that have been originated in both houses of our state’s congress that are aimed at modifying the way science is taught to students and they are House Bill 1674 and Senate Bill 758. My aim today is to help explain how they compare to each other and identify their aims.
Let’s find out what Senate Bill 758 would codify if enacted:
“The State Board of Education, school district boards of education, school district superintendents and school principals shall endeavor to assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies. Teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.”
Imparting critical thinking skills to our students is paramount to our educational system but there are tells in the language being used. The phrase “strengths and weaknesses” when describing scientific principles and theories has been used for decades by groups advocating the teaching of religion in classroom and the reason it is used is because it sounds so innocuous and maybe even agreeable. The next section explains the limits of this bill:
“This section only protects the teaching of scientific information and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion.”
I particularly like that they included the protection of non-believers.
We must ask ourselves, why this bill is limited to “the teaching of science?” If this bill is indeed meant to promote critical thinking then why wouldn’t we allow for our students to examine controversies in all disciplines? We could have children critically examine the usefulness of the Oxford comma in English. Or examine accepted methodologies used by historians and judge whether or not biases stemming from particular historians warp our knowledge of the near past. Well, we can keep guessing why this is restricted to science because the law does not provide any specifics as to what they propose which really scares me because vague laws allow for broad interpretations.
That part about not promoting any religious doctrine might not be violated if the curriculum were to teach Intelligent Design, right? Well of course we know that most science literate laymen and professionals understand that this is creationism in wolf’s clothing but they claim to not be beholden to any particular religion.
The next bill is HB 1674 and it is considerably more detailed. The bill states that its goals are in part to inform students of scientific evidence, also to develop “critical thinking skills” and to help teachers that are unsure of the “expectations concerning how they should present information on some subjects such as, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” The legislature further finds that the premises of certain scientific concepts such as bio ethics, meteorology, chemistry, biology and physics create controversy. Yeah, sure.
There is a lot of language in this bill that is similar to SB 758 in that the bill hopes to help administrators and teachers create a science curriculum that fosters critical thinking and help “students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught” and these are the usual phrases of bills that hope to introduce religion in our science classrooms.
This bill has aims that are further troubling because it states that “no student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because the student may subscribe to a particular position on scientific theories.” The law goes on to state the children are not exempt from being tested and graded based on the state’s curriculum but it’s troubling that they included that line. Judging by this bill’s face value, it does not seem to allow for students to have their own unscientific answers to questions but I cannot understand why this was included at all. Whatever the intentions, it is my understanding that a student should be allowed hold whatever beliefs they want and need but they still need to know what the scientific opinions are and how these opinions are formed and substantiated.
To finish, this bill also provides for the protection of non-believers against discrimination however I am having a hard time believing this promise after reading the body of the text. It is for these reasons that I am asking you to contact your representatives and senators regarding these two bills while they are still being discussed in committee and before they are brought to a vote where partisanship is likely to provide the necessary votes. And we no longer have Brad Henry to rely on to make the right decision (there’s a Richard Nixon joke in here somewhere).