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First Amendment Advocate, Vol. 4, No. 1, August 2003

The Newsletter of the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United

Textbook Disclaimers:  A bad idea whose time should never come

by Jim  Huff


Think back a few years ago to 1999.  The Oklahoma State Textbook Committee attempted to require biology  textbook publishers to put a  printed  “disclaimer” in all new textbooks that  discussed biological evolution.  The  disclaimer was to taint the concept of   evolution.  In essence, it was an attempt to “poison the well” related to  this long established scientific  concept.  Questions were raised and conclusions were made that were inappropriate for a legislative body (government) to mandate on Oklahoma’s public schools.  It would have been an academic disservice to those  students and teachers in public schools studying the subject of biology.


Those supporting the “disclaimer  approach” to biology material should be recognized as “creationists” or “intelligent design advocates.”  Their motivations were to include matters  of personal faith (religion) alongside  the traditional class discussions of  evolution.   It was a backdoor approach to introduce religious expectations into public school classrooms.   The Supreme Court has ruled that “creationism” is not a scientific concept and teaching it is an  inappropriate mixing of  “church and state.”


The effort failed when the Attorney  General ruled that the Committee  had no authority to require an evolution disclaimer.  The ruling also concluded that the Committee had violated the Open Meeting Act when the  disclaimer was adopted at their November 5th meeting.   The opponents  of the AG ruling did not challenge it  in any type of law suit.   But, they did not give up their intent to establish a  landmark change in Oklahoma’s public  schools.  


The strategy shifted from the use of established public education agencies to  the state legislature.  It is easier to  threaten political consequences (votes) if  a legislator does not support the “disclaimer approach.”


The AG ruling had nothing to with 1) the  debate over “evolution” and “creationism”  2) the introduction of a totally new role for government in academic matters,  or  3) the “disclaimer  approach” to subject matter in Oklahoma’s public schools.  


It was a  simple  declaration that the State Textbook Committee went far beyond their legal  authority and DID IT IN A MANNER NOT IN THE OPEN FOR ALL OKLAHOMANS TO SEE.


January 2003 the evolution disclaimer  idea was introduced again in HB 1504 by  Representative Graves.   The same language from 1999 was introduced as a new Oklahoma  law.  The bill died in  committee. 


Again the disclaimer idea appeared late in the legislative session as an  amendment  to  Senator Pruitt’s SB 346.   This  bill was related to “the filing of meritless  lawsuits against school districts,  teachers, administrators, and other school  employees.”   The bill had nothing to do  with either biology or textbooks.  AGAIN THERE WAS NO NOTICE TO  THE GENERAL PUBLIC.  There was no  effort to hear from public school students, parents, teachers, administrators,  college level biology instructors, etc. 


Why is the academic study of biological  evolution such a burning issue?   Why all the “below the radar” tactics?   All persons of faith in Oklahoma are not  supportive of the misleading disclaimer  language.  There have been no problems in the biology classrooms.   No  student’s individual faith perspective  has been mistreated.    


As a high school Social Studies Teacher,  I have taught many subjects that do not  have total academic agreement within  the subject areas:  U.S. history, world history, government, economics,  sociology, psychology, religions of the world.  If the “disclaimer approach” is adopted by the Oklahoma  legislature,  all of the identified subjects could be next in line for some type of  disclaimer” designed to taint  some concept that a majority of  legislators do  not accept.   DISCLAIMERS ARE A  BAD IDEA  AND SHOULD NEVER  BE ADOPTED.


By the way,  the WORDS, “freedom of religion” or “separation  of  church  and  state” are not in the U. S. Constitution.   You think somebody who  wants a closer relationship between  the government and religious groups  COULD HAVE IN MIND A DISCLAIMER FOR U.S. HISTORY or  U.S. GOVERNMENT TEXTBOOKS? 


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"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”

Copyright © 2003 Americans United -- Oklahoma Chapter  P.O. Box 892747 Oklahoma City, OK 73189.   Phone and Fax:  405-632-0037   Send mail to jhuff@auok.org with questions about the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State


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