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Intelligent Design bill proposed in Pennsylvania


by Nick Matzke

On March 16, 2005, a bill -- HB 1007 -- promoting "intelligent design" creationism was introduced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and referred to the Education Committee. If enacted, HB 1007 would add a section ("Teaching Theories on the Origin of Man and Earth") to the Public School Code of 1949. That new section would allow school boards to add "intelligent design" to any curriculum containing evolution and allow teachers to use, subject to the approval of the board, "supporting evidence deemed necessary for instruction on the theory of intelligent design." The term "intelligent design" is not defined in the bill. Presumably attempting to prevent a challenge to its constitutionality, HB 1007 explicitly states, "When providing supporting evidence on the theory of intelligent design, no teacher in a public school may stress any particular denominational, sectarian or religious belief."

Reaction from Pennsylvania scientists is so far uniformly negative. Colin Purrington, a biology professor at Swarthmore College, whose spoofs of antievolution disclaimer stickers attracted national attention in The New York Times in December 2004, commented that the bill "would encourage local school districts to promote the teaching of intelligent design creationism alongside the well-accepted theory of evolution. Citizens who view the bill as a fair way to 'teach the controversy' might consider how curricula could be similarly amended to include dissents to a round earth and a heliocentric solar system." Randy Bennett, a biology professor at Juniata College, quipped, "Next we will be asked to teach the revolutionary idea that there are four elements in the universe: Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water." Looking on the bright side, Larry Frankel, the legislative director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, remarked, "While this bill seeks to advance an anti-science agenda, we should view the introduction of this legislation as a golden opportunity to remind our legislators why it is so important that all Pennsylvania's public school students learn good science."

The bill may have been inspired by the situation in Dover, Pennsylvania, where, in 2004, the local school board passed a policy requiring teachers to present "intelligent design." Parents in the school district have filed suit over the policy in federal court, with the help of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and a private law firm, Pepper Hamilton LLP (see NCSE updates on Pennsylvania for more on the situation in Dover).

The Pennsylvania "intelligent design" bill is the tenth antievolution bill to have been promoted in a state legislature in 2005. Such bills have called variously for requiring equal time for "scientific creationism" (Mississippi), requiring or allowing the teaching of "intelligent design" (Arkansas and Pennsylvania), investigating "alternatives" to evolution (South Carolina), teaching "scientific evidence inconsistent with or not supporting" evolution (Georgia), and teaching "the full range of scientific views that exist" (Alabama [two bills], Kansas [non-binding resolution], Missouri [requiring textbooks contain a "critical analysis of origins"]). One bill, in Montana, never completed the drafting process, so its content is unclear. Many of the bills contain versions of the so-called Santorum language, drafted originally by "intelligent design" proponent Phillip Johnson, promoted by Senator Rick Santorum, and removed from what became the No Child Left Behind Act (for details, see NCSE's compilation on the Santorum language). For updates on antievolution activity around the country, visit NCSE's news page.

The ID language of the Pennsylvania bill is reproduced below. Pennsylvania citizens concerned about the bill, and seeking information or suggestions, are encouraged to contact the ACLU of Pennsylvania, or Nick Matzke at NCSE (matzke@ncseweb.org).
Pennsylvania House Bill 1007

1516.2. Teaching Theories on the Origin of Man and Earth.

(a) In any public school instruction concerning the theories of the origin of man and the earth which includes the theory commonly known as evolution, a board of school directors may include, as a portion of such instruction, the theory of intelligent design. Upon approval of the board of school directors, any teacher may use supporting evidence deemed necessary for instruction on the theory of intelligent design.

(b) When providing supporting evidence on the theory of intelligent design, no teacher in a public school may stress any particular denominational, sectarian or religious belief.

(c) This section shall not be construed as being adverse to any decision which has been rendered by an appellate court.

Links

Pennsylvania House Bill No. 1007

ACLU of Pennsylvania
http://www.aclupa.org/