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Montana bill mutates

The bill in Montana that was intended to "[r]equire public schools to teach intelligent design along with evolution" instead now purports to "encourage critical thinking regarding controversial scientific theories." On November 5, 2012, Clayton Fiscus (R-District 46), a new member of the Montana House of Representatives, asked for a bill to be drafted to require the teaching of "intelligent design," which would presumably conflict with the decision in the 2005 case Kitzmiller v. Dover, in which requiring the public schools to teach "intelligent design" was held to be unconstitutional.

The draft bill now produced in response to Fiscus's request contains a preamble, which invokes "academic freedom," the lack of scientific agreement, and "critical thinking" in support of the bill's provisions, and five sections, of which the first is the most substantive. Claiming that "some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on these subjects," the bill in its first section encourages state and local education administrators "to assist teachers in finding effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies" and forbids them to prohibit teachers from presenting "the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught." The remaining sections of the bill integrate it with existing state code and provide that it will take effect on passage and approval.

Although the draft bill provides that it "may not be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine," it is silent on whether "intelligent design" constitutes a religious doctrine. From the list of controversial topics — "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, random mutation, natural selection, DNA, and fossil discoveries" — it is clear that the teaching of evolution in Montana's public schools is still Fiscus's target. The legislature convenes on January 7, 2013.