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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

UPDATE: South Dakota Creationism Bills Dies   

By Phil Plait

I have some good news: A bill introduced by the South Dakota Legislature that specifically would have allowed the teaching of creationism (in the guise of intelligent design) is DOA.

I’m glad it’s dead; such a bill is a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. Unfortunately, that’s not the reason these kinds of bills usually die; instead, they die in committee, or don’t meet some legislative deadline. And, unfortunately, sometimes they even pass.

But not this time, not in South Dakota. And the reason this one died is decidedly odd: The main sponsor of the bill, Jeff Monroe (R-Pierre), withdrew it because it was “written poorly.”

Why does that set off my alarms? Because here is the bill in its entirety:

No school board or school administrator may prohibit a teacher in public or nonpublic school from providing instruction on intelligent design or other related topics.

That seems pretty straightforward to me. Monroe wants educators to be able to teach religion masquerading as science—worse, religious claims that are provably wrong.

He then makes an odd statement:”

I didn't want to put the people in that committee in a tight spot. Some agreed with the bill, but they would have had to vote against it, based on the fact it was written poorly.

This makes me wonder where it had room to be written poorly. Perhaps it’s too obviously anti-constitutional. Most such bills hide their actual intent by using sneaky tactics, like trying to call out “strengths and weaknesses” in science, or under the auspices of “academic freedom” (an Orwellian phrase when used this way; teachers don’t really have the freedom to teach religion in a science class). In this sense the South Dakota bill was refreshing: Its intent wasn’t obfuscated.

Monroe continues:

I don't mind a good fight, but the amount of good that would have come from the bill would have been outweighed by all the misconceptions people have had.

Well, first of all, no good would have come from this bill. It would’ve been used to teach students clearly incorrect material at the very least. And it might lead to lawsuits due to its constitutional violation, and that would be a waste of taxpayer money and time. But also, I’m curious about the “misconceptions” people had about it. It is so brief, so to-the-point, I really don’t see where there would be any room for mistaking its intent. The purpose of the bill was crystal clear.

It sounds like Monroe might retool the bill and resubmit it at some future date. Your best bet to keep up with this is to follow the good folks at the National Center for Science Education, who track these sorts of things, especially if you live in South Dakota.

But they can pop up anywhere; we had one last year in my home state of Colorado, and a lawmaker in Missouri wants to make the teaching of evolution optional. We must stay ever vigilant, and protect our First Amendment rights. That includes people who are of a religious bent; you wouldn’t want some other religion taught as fact to your children. As so many have pointed out, the only way we can have freedom of religion in this country is to have freedom from it. Our Constitution protects people of faith just as much as it does those who aren’t.

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