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Shenanigans in Kansas

In the wake of the November 2004 elections in Kansas, antievolutionists gained the majority of seats on the state board of education, and they are now using their 6-4 majority to try to undermine the treatment of evolution in the state science standards, which are undergoing revision. A first draft of the revised standards was submitted to the board in December 2004, and approved, despite complaints that the opinions of antievolutionists were ignored. Efforts to incorporate a "minority report" written with the aid of a local "intelligent design" organization were unsuccessful. The draft standards were then discussed (and continue to be discussed) at packed public hearings at four venues, as well as in letters to the editors, op-ed pieces, and editorials in newspapers and on radio and television stations across the state. Now a new series of actions apparently intended to bolster the antievolutionist faction on the board is causing concern. [Link broken]

On February 9, 2005, citing "significant disagreement" in the science curriculum writing committee over "issues that seem to be of legal and scientific substance, particularly with respect to the issue of the definition of science and the issue of origins and evolution" and claiming that "the controversy appears to mirror a controversy within the legal and scientific communities about these issues," the board adopted a proposal to establish a web site [Link broken] to receive comments about the draft standards and the "minority report" version, and to establish a committee of board members "to conduct hearings to investigate the merits of the two opposing views." Only antievolutionist board members voted in favor, and only antievolutionist members were appointed to the hearing committee. According to the Wichita Eagle, the committee "will meet with scientists who support evolution and scientists who support the competing concept of intelligent design," which prompted moderate board member Carol Rupe to say, "This is very disconcerting, and I'm very opposed to it."

Also on February 9, the Associated Press reported that Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, meeting with members of the state board of education, offered to defend the board if it were to require evolution warning labels to be placed in biology textbooks. Kline told the AP that he thought such labels were reasonable, even in light of the recent decision in federal court that the warning labels used in Cobb County, Georgia, were unconstitutional. The board members were divided about the idea: conservative Iris Van Meter reportedly favored it, but conservative Kathy Martin said that the decision should be left to local school districts. (See also the story in the Lawrence Journal-World.) Overshadowing the idea was concern about whether the meeting violated the state's Open Meeting Act. Kline held two meetings with three conservative members of the board each, in what appeared to some to be a transparent attempt to evade the act's provisions. Six media organizations demanded that the members who met with Kline "provide details on what occurred at those meetings, admit they violated the state open meetings law and promise not to do it again."

And a nonbinding resolution introduced in the Kansas House of Representatives on February 15, 2005, also seems intended to provide support for the antievolutionists on the state board education. House Resolution 6018 (PDF), sponsored by Representative Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee), would, if enacted, urge "the State Board of Education and public schools within the state to (a) prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science and (b), where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), provide curriculum that will help students understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society." The language of HR 6018 is modeled on the so-called Santorum Amendment, written by "intelligent design" proponent Phillip Johnson and stripped from the No Child Left Behind Act; of the eight antievolutionist bills introduced in state legislatures in the current legislative session, all but one contain such language.