Oklahoma! Where there’s “plenty of air and plenty of room”—and plenty of determination, even in 2016, to get evolution out of the classroom. Just witness the tireless efforts of state Sen. Josh Brecheen, who every year since being elected in 2010 has authored legislation aimed at skirting nearly three decades of court decisions that prohibit teaching creationism in public schools.*
His first year in office, according to the National Center for Science Education, Brecheen—a Republican member whose official Oklahoma Senate bio page lists his occupation as “motivational speaker”—wrote in the Durant Daily Democrat that “I have introduced legislation requiring every publicly funded Oklahoma school to teach the debate of creation vs. evolution using the known science, even that which conflicts with Darwin's religion.” (One of Brecheen’s more recent missions, incidentally, is “nullifying” the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.)
But as Brecheen’s anti-evolution bills have repeatedly fizzled before becoming law, he has taken to adopting (slightly) more subtle tactics. In the 2016 version, instead of advancing an outright endorsement of creationism, the more euphemistic purpose of Brecheen’s Senate Bill 1322 is:
to create an environment within public school districts that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues. … Teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.
As with the intelligent-design debate, there is no supremacy of fact; there are only “opinions about controversial issues.” And even if poor, God-fearing teachers are forced to discuss those pesky “existing scientific theories” of how the world was created, they are also allowed to discuss the potential “weaknesses” of said theories (like, say, their making no appearance in Genesis) without repercussions.
Brecheen isn’t the only one crusading to get junk science into K–12 classrooms in Oklahoma. In the state’s House, Sally Kern, a longtime skeptic of certain scientific theories, has just brought forth House Bill 3045, also known as the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act:
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.
Hey, maybe we could toss geology on that list, too! I mean, anything that suggests the Earth wasn’t created in six days surely qualifies as “controversial,” right? If this law passes, teachers can teach pretty much whatever they want in any type of science class without getting in trouble. Because, you know, it’s all relative.
Luckily, it’s unlikely these bills—and there have been a lot of them—will become law, but you certainly can’t fault Brecheen and Kern and the other true believers for lack of trying.
*Correction, Jan. 25, 2016: This post originally misstated that courts have forbidden the teaching of creationism for nearly a century. It has only been since 1987.