Is Creationism Sneaking Back Into the Classroom?

With a little finesse and a very good disguise, creationism may be finding it’s way back into public schools.

Legislators in seven states—Colorado, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Indiana, Missouri and Arizona—have introduced legislation that could open the door to this type of teaching.

Many of the bills have similar language and focus on students developing “critical thinking skills necessary to become intelligent, productive, and informed citizens.”

These bills, if they were to become law, also give a free pass to teachers who may already teach creation science or intelligent design on the sly in their classrooms.

“Although it is unconstitutional, teachers aren’t aware of that or they may live in a community where people want creationism to be taught,” Josh Rosenau, the National Center for Science Education NCSE program and policy director, told TakePart.

“It’s not uncommon for a teacher’s first line of defense to be, ‘I’ve been teaching this for 20 years and no one has ever complained.’ It is a huge mess that these laws can create if someone wants to push them to their limits.”

For example, in Montana last week, Republican state Rep. Clayton Fiscus introduced a bill vaguely titled, “Emphasize critical thinking in science education.” In his bill, he lists random mutation, natural selection, DNA, and fossil discoveries as controversial.

Fiscus said in a committee hearing, “It’s been about 150 years now since the evolution theory came out, and there’s a lot of evidence that’s come out since that would indicate we have to think a little bit wider.”

The guise of “academic freedom” began in earnest about ten years ago when the religious right began their push for “intelligent design,” another term for creationism.

Tennessee and Louisiana already have “academic freedom” laws.

Louisiana passed its bill to bipartisan support in 2008 under Republican Governor Bobby Jindal.

Barbara Forrest, a philosophy professor at Southeastern Louisiana University and expert on the creationism movement, told TakePart that such bills are “all products of the Discovery Institute, working through local sympathizers in each state.”

Tennessee passed its law last year. It enables teachers to more easily teach alternative theories to the scientific concepts of evolution and human-caused climate change.

Rosenau said newly elected Tea Party legislators, who won office in the 2010 mid-term election, are sponsoring many of these bills.

In Arizona, it’s the first time in at least a decade that such a bill has been introduced, and in Colorado, creationist legislation hasn’t been introduced since 1972. The Colorado bill would create “Academic Freedom Acts” for both K-12 public schools and institutes of higher education in the state of Colorado. Oklahoma currently has two bills that target scientific controversies.

Rule number one is that creationists never give up.

Oklahoma Republican Sen. Josh Brecheen previously introduced similar legislation in 2010. Then he wrote in a local newspaper, “Renowned scientists now asserting that evolution is laden with errors are being ignored. ... Using your tax dollars to teach the unknown, without disclosing the entire scientific findings[,] is incomplete and unacceptable.”

The Missouri bill, if enacted, would require “the equal treatment of science instruction regarding evolution and intelligent design” in public elementary and secondary schools and to “any introductory science course taught at any public institution of higher education.”

If parents want to stay informed, the NCSE recommends they ask their children about homework and science activities, and suggest science and natural history museum field trips to science teachers.

Forrest said that more similar legislation is likely to be introduced in other states.

“Rule number one,” she says, “is that creationists never give up.”

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Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist whose work frequently appears in The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor. She is the author of two books. @SuziParker |