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A second Oklahoma bill attacks evolution and climate change

A bill in Oklahoma that would, if enacted, encourage teachers to present the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of "controversial" topics such as "biological evolution" and "global warming" is back from the dead. Entitled the "Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act," House Bill 1551 was introduced in the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 2011 by Sally Kern (R-District 84), a persistent sponsor of antievolution legislation in the Sooner State, and referred to the House Common Education Committee. It was rejected there on February 22, 2011, on a 7-9 vote. But, as The Oklahoman (February 23, 2011) reported, the vote was not final, since a sponsor "could ask the committee to bring it up again this session or next year." And indeed, on February 20, 2012, Gus Blackwell (R-District 61) resurrected the bill in the House Common Education Committee.

The only significant difference is that where the original version specified, "The Legislature further finds that the teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects," the new version specifies, "the Legislature further finds that the teaching of some scientific concepts including but not limited to premises in the areas of biology, chemistry, meteorology, bioethics and physics can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be 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."

On February 21, 2012, just a day after HB 1551 was resurrected, the House Common Education Committee voted 9-7 to accept it, hearing no testimony from the public. One amendment, providing, "Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to exempt students from learning, understanding, and being tested on curriculum as prescribed by state and local education standards," was accepted; while that language was not present in the original version of HB 1551, it was added by amendment by the House Common Education Committee in 2011 before the bill was rejected, suggesting that Blackwell was working from the original rather than the amended version of Kern's bill. The bill will now presumably proceed to the House of Representatives for a floor vote; it will have to be accepted by the House by March 15, 2012, in order to proceed to the Senate.

In its current incarnation, HB 1551 differs only slightly from Oklahoma's Senate Bill 320 from 2009, which a member of the Senate Education Committee described to the Tulsa World (February 17, 2009) as one of the worst bills that he had ever seen. In its critique (PDF) of SB 320, Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education argued, "Promoting the notion that there is some scientific controversy is just plain dishonest ... Evolution as a process is supported by an enormous and continually growing body of evidence. Evolutionary theory has advanced substantially since Darwin's time and, despite 150 years of direct research, no evidence in conflict with evolution has ever been found." With respect to the supposed "weaknesses" of evolution, OESE added, "they are phony fabrications, invented and promoted by people who don't like evolution."