NCSE Evolution Education Update for 2012/02/17
(by NCSE Deputy Director Glenn Branch)
Dear Friends of NCSE, Both antievolution bills in New Hampshire have been dismissed by the House Education Committee. A new bill in Alabama would be a "vehicle" for creationism, says its sponsor -- but a leading constitutional scholar regards it as unconstitutional. Plus the creationist bill in Indiana is apparently shelved, and a new poll investigates the opinions of British Christians on teaching creationism in the science classroom.
NEW HAMPSHIRE ANTIEVOLUTION BILLS DISMISSED "The House Education Committee dismissed two bills this morning that would have dictated classroom lectures on evolution," the Concord Monitor's State House blog reported (February 16, 2012). The bills in question are House Bill 1148, introduced by Jerry Bergevin (R-District 17), which would have charged the state board of education to "[r]equire evolution to be taught in the public schools of this state as a theory, including the theorists' political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism," and House Bill 1457, introduced by Gary Hopper (R-District 7) and John Burt (R-District 7), which would have charged the state board of education to "[r]equire science teachers to instruct pupils that proper scientific inquire [sic] results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established, and that scientific and technological innovations based on new evidence can challenge accepted scientific theories or modes." Although HB 1457 as drafted was silent about "intelligent design," Hopper's initial request was to have a bill drafted that would require "instruction in intelligent design in the public schools." The House Education Committee heard testimony on HB 1457 on February 9, 2012. According to the Nashua Telegraph (February 10, 2012), the committee heard about ninety minutes of testimony, "including opposition from the New Hampshire Science Teachers Association and the New Hampshire School Board Association, who said state science standards already require students to learn that questioning established theories is part of the scientific method." Hopper, the sponsor of the bill, "made it clear that his concern involves teaching alternatives to evolution," and a representative of the Discovery Institute was quoted as saying, "There are non-creationist, skeptical alternatives to Darwinist theory that teachers could bring into their classroom," even while expressing a lack of support for the bill. John Godfrey of the New Hampshire Science Teachers Association, testifying against the bill, was quoted by the Concord Monitor (February 10, 2012) as saying, "There's lots of things in science we really know and we can teach the kids, here's what scientists have figured out, and we pretty much agree. Don't deprive them of that and say, 'Maybe yes, and maybe no. Go figure it out for yourself.' " The House Education Committee heard testimony on HB 1148 on February 14, 2012. According to the New Hampshire Union Leader (February 15, 2012), "No one testified in support of Bergevin's bill, however, it did face several opponents, including representatives from the New Hampshire Science Teachers Association and the N.H. School Administrators Association -- as well as Jackson Hinkle, a 10-year-old student from Nashua." The youngster told the committee that enacting the bill "would be a blow to our educational system, which is already in a bad state," adding, "If evolution was not presented in the scientific sense, but rather the colloquial, people would be denied modern scientific information." John Godfrey of the New Hampshire Science Teachers Association emphasized that, contrary to the apparent presumption of the bill, a theory is not just a guess or a hunch. "Evolution," he explained, "is at the extremely well-established end of the spectrum of scientific theories." The Union Leader reported, "Members of the committee asked no questions and made almost no comments during the hearing, except to praise the students for participating." Despite the House Education Committee's votes, New Hampshire's antievolution bills are not officially dead yet, however. A subsequent story in the Concord Monitor (February 17, 2012) reports, "The bills are due for a vote at Wednesday's session of the full House." Apparently, in New Hampshire, a committee's vote is in effect only a recommendation. According to a primer on legislative process posted on the state legislature's website, after a committee votes on a bill, "The bill is then placed on the House/Senate Calendar for a 'floor vote', where a Committee member presents the Committee's decision. Floor debate may follow, with legislators who oppose the Committee's decision speaking alternately with legislators who support the Committee. It is rare for the full Senate or House to overturn a Committee's decision. After debate, the full body votes on the Committee's decision." New Hampshire's HB 1457 and HB 1148 are two of the seven antievolution bills of 2012 so far, along with Alabama's HB 133, Indiana's SB 89 (now shelved), Missouri's HB 1227 and HB 1276, and Oklahoma's SB 1742. For the story on the Concord Monitor's State House blog, visit: http://www.concordmonitor.com/blogentry/312042/house-committee-dismisses-bills-on-evolution For the stories in the Nashua Telegraph and the Concord Monitor, visit: http://www.nashuatelegraph.com/news/949611-196/bill-would-protect-teachers-who-want-to.html http://www.concordmonitor.com/article/310676/bills-assert-science-only-theory For the story in the New Hampshire Union Leader, visit: http://www.newhampshire.com/article/20120215/NEWS06/702159952 For the later story in the Concord Monitor, visit: http://www.concordmonitor.com/article/312157/panel-dismisses-evolution-bills For the primer on New Hampshire legislative process, visit: http://www.gencourt.state.nh.us/misc/legprocess.html And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in New Hampshire, visit: http://ncse.com/news/new-hampshire ANTIEVOLUTION LEGISLATION IN ALABAMA A bill introduced in the Alabama House of Representatives would allow local boards of education to award credit for religious instruction -- and its sponsor says that it is intended as a vehicle for teaching creationism. House Bill 133, introduced on February 7, 2012, by Blaine Galliher (R-District 30), and referred to the House Committee on Education Policy, would, if enacted, "authorize local boards of education to include released time religious instruction as an elective course for high school students." Such released time programs, writes Anne Marie Lofaso in Religion in the Public Schools (2009, p. 64), are generally constitutionally permissible "as long as (1) there is no evidence that the public schools enforce attendance at the religious schools by punishing absentees from the released time programs with truancy sanctions; (2) the school authorities remain neutral about the program and do nothing other than release the students for the religious instruction upon the request of their parents; (3) the school authorities do not force or coerce any student to attend the religious instruction; and (4) the school authorities do not actually bring the religious instruction into the public school." HB 133 seems to go further, however, by providing, "A student who participates in a released time religious instruction may earn elective course credit for participation as determined by the local board of education. ... The local board of education may adopt minimum standards for the curriculum and participation necessary to qualify for credit." The provision of elective course credit is in fact identified as the purpose of the bill, which includes as a legislative finding that "the absence of an ability to award such credits has essentially eliminated the ability of a school district to accommodate the desires of parents and students to participate in released time programs." Discussing the bill with WAFF in Huntsville, Alabama (February 5, 2012), Galliher was "pretty clear on where he stands," telling the station, "They teach evolution in the textbooks, but they don't teach a creation theory," and "Creation has just as much right to be taught in the school system as evolution does and I think this is simply providing the vehicle to do that." In the 2011 legislative session, Galliher introduced the identical House Bill 568, which died in committee. According to WAFF, "The state board of education did not support the bill last year when it was introduced, citing the challenge it would create for working around critical instructional time." There are already signs that the passage of HB 133 would encourage the teaching of creationism. The Gadsen Times (November 19, 2011) reported that a local religious group in Galliher's district was eager to participate in such a released time program, planning to offer four classes per day, five days per week. "The primary thrust of the school," explained a spokesperson, "is to inform young people there is [a] theory of creation besides evolution, and it's strictly based on Genesis 1 through 12." For the relevant chapter of Religion in the Public Schools (PDF), visit: http://religioninthepublicschools.com/downloads/Religion%20-%20Ch4%20-%20Curriculum%20Issues.pdf For the story from WAFF, visit: http://www.waff.com/story/16681725/bill-would-allow-elective-religious-courses-for-high-school-students For the story from the Gadsen Times, visit: http://www.gadsdentimes.com/article/20111119/NEWS/111119752 For the full text of HB 133, visit: http://ncse.com/news/2012/02/antievolution-legislation-alabama-007208 And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Alabama, visit: http://ncse.com/news/alabama CREDIT-FOR-CREATIONISM SCHEME UNCONSTITUTIONAL? A leading authority on the law of religious liberty regards Alabama's House Bill 133 -- which would, if enacted, "authorize local boards of education to include released time religious instruction as an elective course for high school students" -- as unconstitutional. Douglas Laycock of the University of Virginia told WBHM (February 16, 2012) that although the bill attempts to ensure that the state would not be unconstitutionally supporting the teaching of religion, it is "oblivious to the question of whether academic credit is a form of support." But, he added, "awarding academic credit would seem to be a pretty significant incentive." The sponsor of the bill, Blaine Galliher (R-District 30), is on record as saying that the point of the bill is to balance the presentation of evolution in the public schools. Laycock commented, "I think that should not be constitutional. Despite all the political rhetoric, there is essentially no scientific evidence for creationism. The only scientific debate is about the details and mechanisms of evolution. So a course in creationism is essentially promoting a religious belief, and the state is supposed to stay neutral on questions of religious belief and leave us free to decide those questions for ourselves." Laycock argued, "the state should not be granting credit for instruction in religion, either from a believing perspective or from a non-believing perspective. The only state credit for religion courses should be objective study of what each of the great religions does or teaches." It would be problematic for schools to offer credit for released time religious instruction, he explained: "We don't want the government telling churches how to provide the religious instruction. ... There'd be an entanglement problem with the school trying to regulate these courses, trying to tell the churches what kind of religion course they can offer." For the audio of the interview, visit: http://www.wbhm.org/News/2012/LaycockInterview.html For a transcript of the interview, visit: http://ncse.com/news/2012/02/credit-creationism-scheme-unconstitutional-007209 And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Alabama, visit: http://ncse.com/news/alabama CREATIONIST BILL SHELVED IN INDIANA "A bill passed last month by the Indiana Senate that would have allowed schools to teach religious stories of creation along with the theory of evolution when discussing the origins of life in science class is dead," according to the Indianapolis Star's education blog (February 14, 2012). The bill in question is Senate Bill 89. As originally submitted, SB 89 provided, "The governing body of a school corporation may require the teaching of various theories concerning the origin of life, including creation science, within the school corporation." On January 30, 2012, however, it was amended in the Senate to provide instead, "The governing body of a school corporation may offer instruction on various theories of the origin of life. The curriculum for the course must include theories from multiple religions, which may include, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology." The bill subsequently proceeded to the House of Representatives. But the Speaker of the House, Brian Bosma (R-District 88), was disinclined to let it continue further, as the Times of Munster (February 2, 2012) reported, as was the chair of the House Education Committee, Robert Behning (R-District 91), as the Associated Press (February 7, 2012) reported. Now, according to the Star's education blog, Bosma "moved the bill to the rules committee, a procedural step that all but assures it will not make it to a vote this year." The bill would have to be approved by its committee and by the full House by March 5, 2012, in order to be passed by the legislature. "I didn't disagree with the concept of the bill," Bosma said. "But I hesitate to micromanage local curricula. Secondarily, I didn't think it was prudent to buy a lawsuit the state could ill afford at this point." SB 89 was widely criticized by newspapers around the state, including the Indianapolis Star (February 1, 2012), the Evanston Courier & Press (February 3, 2012), and the Terre Haute Tribune Star (February 10, 2012), which argued, "There is little doubt the target of the bill is evolution, whose staunchest political and religious opponents display little interest in the teaching of good science, which should be a disinterested, peer-reviewed, religion-neutral process." The Tribune Star's editorial also observed that there is a deeper problem: "In 2011, the National Survey of High School Biology Teachers discovered that less than 30 percent of a sample of public school instructors made students aware of the evidence for evolution. The reasons for this may be manifold, but when so few Americans become literate in even the rudiments of science, it's unlikely they'll gain the skills to distinguish it from pseudoscience." For the post at the Indianapolis Star's education blog, visit: http://blogs.indystar.com/education/2012/02/14/indians-creation-science-bill-is-dead/ For the reports from the Times of Munster and the Associated Press (via WSBT), visit: http://www.nwitimes.com/news/state-and-regional/indiana/creationism-bill-may-not-get-indiana-house-vote/article_e3b1a130-cf35-5e41-9e33-b403dcd5529a.html http://www.wsbt.com/news/wsbt-indiana-house-panel-leader-leery-of-creationism-bill-20120207,0,34182.story For the cited editorials, visit: http://www.indystar.com/article/20120202/OPINION08/202020332/Toxic-mix-religion-science http://www.courierpress.com/news/2012/feb/03/teaching-creationism-belongs-in-history-lit-not/ http://tribstar.com/opinion/x290305334/TRIBUNE-STAR-EDITORIAL-Keep-religion-out-of-science-class And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Indiana, visit: http://ncse.com/news/indiana POLLING CREATIONISM IN BRITAIN A poll reveals that more Christians in Britain oppose teaching creationism in the science classroom than support it. Asked "To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement? The Genesis story that God created the world and all the life forms in it in 6 days should not be taught in UK state-funded school science lessons," 17% of respondents strongly agreed, 21% tended to agree, 24% neither agreed nor disagreed, 17% tended to disagree, and 14% strongly disagreed, while 5% said that they didn't know and 2% preferred not to say. Commissioned by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science UK, the poll was conducted by Ipsos MORI between April 1 and April 7, 2011, on a face-to-face basis with 2107 adult respondents in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The full version of the questionnaire, including the question about teaching creationism in the science classroom, was administered only to the 1136 (54%) of respondents who said that they were recorded, or would have recorded themselves, as Christians in the national census in 2011. The poll asked a broad range of questions about the beliefs, attitudes, and practices of Christians in Britain. In a press release, Richard Dawkins summarized the results: "Britain is a secular society, with secular, humane values. There is overwhelming support for these values, even among those who think of themselves as Christian. Just as importantly, there is also deep opposition to the state promoting religion in our society. When even Christians overwhelmingly oppose the intermingling of religion and state policy, it is clearly time for the government to stop 'doing God'." For Ipsos MORI's report (PDF), visit: http://www.ipsos-mori.com/Assets/Docs/Polls/ipsos-mori-religious-and-social-attitudes-topline-2012.pdf For the press release from the Dawkins Foundation, visit: http://richarddawkins.net/articles/644942-rdfrs-uk-ipsos-mori-poll-2-uk-christians-oppose-special-influence-for-religion-in-public-policy Thanks for reading. And don't forget to visit NCSE's website -- http://ncse.com -- where you can always find the latest news on evolution and climate education and threats to them. -- Sincerely, Glenn Branch Deputy Director National Center for Science Education, Inc. 420 40th Street, Suite 2 Oakland, CA 94609-2509 510-601-7203 x305 fax: 510-601-7204 800-290-6006 firstname.lastname@example.org http://ncse.com Read Reports of the NCSE on-line: http://reports.ncse.com Subscribe to NCSE's free weekly e-newsletter: http://groups.google.com/group/ncse-news NCSE is on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter: http://www.facebook.com/evolution.ncse http://www.youtube.com/NatCen4ScienceEd http://twitter.com/ncse NCSE's work is supported by its members. Join today! http://ncse.com/join