Thursday, August 14, 2008

Two Governors

The latest strategy of the ID-creationists is to push so-called "academic freedom" laws. These laws do not focus directly on promoting or discouraging the teaching of evolution or creationism but seek to open up public school science classes to the inclusion of material which would undermine the validity of evolution as the foundation of modern biology. They would supposedly "protect" the academic freedom of teachers and students by making allowances for "alternative" viewpoints.

In fact, these laws would undermine the ability of teachers to maintain discipline and focus in their classrooms and open up local school systems to lawsuits which they may not be able to afford.

In Oklahoma, state legislator Sally Kern - who received national attention by declaring that homosexuality was worse than terrorism - managed to get her "Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act", HB2633, passed and onto the desk of Governor Brad Henry.

Here is part of what Tulsa World editorial writer, David Averill, had to say about the bill:

'Antidiscrimination' act unnecessary and a bad idea


House Bill 2633 mandates that school districts "shall treat the voluntary expression by a student of a religious viewpoint, if any, on an otherwise permissible subject in the same manner the district treats the voluntary expression by a student of a secular or other viewpoint ... and may not discriminate against the student based on a religious viewpoint expressed by the student on an otherwise permissible subject."

It goes on to say in the next section that "students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions."

Those two unwieldy sentences can certainly be read to require that a teacher accept a students' religion- based explanation of a natural occurrence or phenomenon.

HB 2633 also includes a provision that "Homework and classroom assignments shall be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance and against other legitimate pedagogical concerns identified by the school district."

What does that mean? The terms "ordinary academic standards" and "legitimate pedagogical concerns" would seem to suggest that teachers could grade schoolwork exclusively on accepted scientific explanations of how things happen. But if that is the case that provision of the bill would appear to be in conflict with the other provisions.

Here's an obvious prediction: Sorting out what HB 2633 says or doesn't say will require lawsuits.

This bill is unneeded. It attempts to fix a problem that doesn't exist. Worse, its muddy and unwieldy language is bound to cause problems for school districts attempting to implement it.

While Kern and Williamson titled the measure the "Religious Viewpoint Antidiscrimination Act," they could have just as aptly called it the "Full Employment for Lawyers Act."

Oklahoma law provides that a governor may veto a bill directly or allow it to die by simply leaving it on his desk (also known as "pocket veto"). Governor Henry - a Democrat in his second term in office - chose not only to veto the bill on June 6th, but to issue a public statement about his action:

"This is to advise you that on this date, pursuant to the authority vested in me by Section 11 and 12 of Article VI of the Oklahoma Constitution to approve or object to legislation presented to me, I have VETOED House Bill 2633. Under current state and federal law, Oklahoma public school students are already allowed to express their faith through voluntary prayer and other activities. While well intended, this legislation is vaguely written and may trigger a number of unintended consequences that actually impede rather than enhance such expression. For example, under this legislation, schools could be forced to provide equal time to fringe organizations that masquerade as religions and advocate behaviors, such as drug use or hate speech, that are dangerous or offensive to students and the general public. Additionally, the bill would presumably require school officials to determine what constitutes legitimate religious expression, subjecting them to an explosion of costly and protracted litigation that would have to be defended at taxpayer’s expense."

On June 16, 2008, the Louisiana Senate approved Senate Bill 733, the "Louisiana Science Education Act". It was sent to the desk of Louisiana's newly-elected Republican governor Bobby Jindal.

The (Baton Rouge) Advocate quoted bill supporter Gene Mills, executive director of the Louisiana Family Forum:

"It provides assurances to both teachers and students that academic inquiries are welcome and appropriate in the science classroom."

In a press release announcing an open letter opposing the bill, National Center for Science Education board member Barbara Forrest - a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University - wrote,

"Governor Jindal surely knows that evolution is not controversial in the mainstream scientific community. He majored in biology at Brown University, and he belongs to a church that considers evolution to be established science and approves of its being taught in its own parochial schools. The LA Family Forum is pushing this bill over the objections of scientists and teachers across the state. The governor has a moral responsibility to Louisiana children to veto this bill."
On June 15th, Governor Jindal had appeared on Face The Nation, where he was asked about Senate Bill 733:

"I don't think this is something the federal or state government should be imposing its views on local school districts. … I think local school boards should be in a position of deciding the curricula and also deciding what students should be learning. … I don't think students learn by us withholding information from them. Some want only to teach intelligent design, some only want to teach evolution. I think both views are wrong, as a parent."

" . . . when my kids go to schools, when they go to public schools, I want them to be presented with the best thinking. I want them to be able to make decisions for themselves. I want them to see the best data. I personally think that the life, human life and the world we live in wasn't created accidentally. I do think that there's a creator. I'm a Christian. I do think that God played a role in creating not only earth, but mankind. Now, the way that he did it, I'd certainly want my kids to be exposed to the very best science. I don't want them to be--I don't want any facts or theories or explanations to be withheld from them because of political correctness. The way we're going to have smart, intelligent kids is exposing them to the very best science and let them not only decide, but also let them contribute to that body of knowledge. That's what makes the scientific process so exciting. You get to go there and find facts and data and test what's come before you and challenge those theories."

On June 25th, Governor Jindal signed Senate Bill 733 into law. He issued no public statement.

1 comment:

  1. This whole debate would be unnecessary if only we didn't have government-run schools. Both sides in this debate consider the other side propoganda, and, although I support the evolution side 100%, they both do have a point, don't they?

    Found your blog through OBloggers - I'll keep reading!