A Missouri House Committee has just approved for consideration of the House an Academic Freedom Bill drafted with the aid of the Discovery Institute.
The bill has a nice twist to it in that it prohibits the consideration of any boundary or difference between religion and non-religion in regards to what to teach or how to teach it. In other words, the bill requires that state agencies, school administrators, and teachers ignore the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America in deference to state law. Therefore, challenges to this particular form of the bill would be a challenge to state’s rights.
Such a challenge would result in the bill being struck down as clearly as any with any other challenge, but it could take longer. If there are sympathetic judges in the right places, a school district that obeys the higher level Federal law (or a teacher or a particular school) could be forced into the court system for one or two rounds of slash and burn lawyering.
The best way to fight this sort of thing? Probably to make sure that individual legislators who introduce such bills, and who chair the committees that approve them, and so on, are held accountable for the legal fees that will be paid by cash-strapped school districts. Of course, such elected officials can’t be held accountable in any pecuniary way, but they can be made to pay by being tossed out of office by disgruntled taxpayers.
The stamp of the Discovery Institute is obvious in both the wording of the bill and the fact that not a single news outlet has coverage of this event, but it is covered on the DI web site. They really ought to be a bit more discrete as I’m sure they will later want to deny involvement in this particular effort (at about the time the legal bills come in).
Here is the main text of the bill:
The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, superintendents of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools 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, including such subjects as the teaching of biological and chemical evolution. Such educational authorities in this state shall also endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies. Toward this end, teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of theories of biological and chemical evolution.
…Neither the state board of education, nor any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, superintendent of schools, or school system administrator, nor any public elementary or secondary school principal or administrator shall prohibit any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of theories of biological or chemical evolution
….This section only protects the teaching of scientific information and this section shall not be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.