Two Antiscience Bills in Oklahoma
Senate Bill 758 (document), styled the Oklahoma Science Education Act, would, if enacted, require state and local educational authorities to “assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies” and permit teachers to “help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.” Unusually but not uniquely, no scientific topics are specifically identified as controversial, but the fact that the sole sponsor of SB 758 is Josh Brecheen (R-District 6), who introduced specifically antievolution legislation in the two previous legislative sessions, is telling.
In late 2010, Brecheen announced his intention to file antievolution legislation in a column in the Durant Daily Democrat (December 19, 2010): “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.” In a subsequent column in the newspaper (December 24, 2010), he indicated that his intention was to have creationism presented as scientifically credible, writing, “I have introduced legislation requiring every publically funded Oklahoma school to teach the debate of creation vs. evolution using the known science, even that which conflicts with Darwin’s religion.”
What Brecheen in fact introduced in 2011, Senate Bill 554, combined a version of the now familiar “academic freedom” language — referring to “the scientific strengths [and] scientific weaknesses of controversial topics … [which] include but are not limited to biological origins of life and biological evolution” — with a directive for the state board of education to adopt “standards and curricula” that echo the flawed portions of the state science standards adopted in Texas in 2009 with respect to the nature of science and evolution. SB 554 died in committee. In 2012, Brecheen took a new tack with Senate Bill 1742, modeled in part on the so-called Louisiana Science Education Act; SB 1742 likewise died in committee.
With SB 758, Brecheen seems now to be following the lead of Tennessee’s “monkey law” (as it was nicknamed by House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh), enacted (as Tenn. Code Ann. 49-6-1030) over the protests of the state’s scientific and educational communities in 2012. The major difference is that SB 758 omits the monkey law’s statement of legislative findings, which cites “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning” as among the topics that “can cause controversy” when taught in the science classroom of the public schools. The history of Brecheen’s legislative efforts clearly demonstrates that it is evolution which is primarily the target of the new bill, however.
Second, House Bill 1674 (document), styled the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act, would, if enacted, similarly require state and local educational authorities to “assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies” and permit teachers to “help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.” Unlike SB 768, however, HB 1674 specifically mentions “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning” as subjects which “some teachers may be unsure” about how to teach.
The sole sponsor of HB 1674 is Gus Blackwell (R-District 61). In 2012, Blackwell revived House Bill 1551, which was originally introduced in the Oklahoma House of Representatives by Sally Kern (R-District 84) in 2011. HB 1551 was rejected in the House Common Education Committee in 2011, but Blackwell resurrected the bill in 2012, adding a reference to controversial “premises in the areas of biology, chemistry, meteorology, bioethics and physics.” The revised bill quickly passed the House Common Education Committee, which amended it slightly to provide “Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to exempt students from learning, understanding, and being tested on curriculum as prescribed by state and local education standards.”