First Amendment Advocate, Vol. 1, No. 2, August 2000
The Newsletter of the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United
Saga of the Evolution Disclaimer Bill
By Jim Huff
Never underestimate the will and determination of the Religious Right. Laws that they are to comply with, rulings by authorities above them, and a respect for differing views have never been concerns that deterred them from their objectives.
Appointees by the governor to the State Textbook Committee came to the committee with a specific game plan. They were going to change the way human evolution was presented in biology texts used in Oklahoma. In their opinion, “evolution” was anti-God, anti-Bible, and anti-Christian. They would mandate a written statement down playing “scientific evolution” and require all publishers to include the “disclaimer” in all texts discussing evolution before the committee would approve them for use in Oklahoma public schools. Never mind that the state statute governing the committee did not give them the authority to make such requirements.
Without any public notice, the committee prepared a disclaimer related to evolution and the majority voted to impose it on the publishers, public school districts, biology teachers, and students of Oklahoma. The committee did so in November 1999.
It was not a coincidence that the language they adopted was similar to the language in another state. The disclaimer language was word for word taken from the Alabama state mandated disclaimer for texts discussing human evolution. The Oklahoma Textbook Committee was part of a nationwide attack on the teaching of evolution in the public schools. To add insult to their efforts, they tried to deny that their support for the disclaimer was to defend “religious orthodoxy.”
Questions concerning the legalities of the disclaimer were forwarded to the Attorney General of Oklahoma. After investigating the process that produced the disclaimer, the AG ruled in February 20000, that the Textbook Committee had no authority to require the inclusion of disclaimers in texts used in Oklahoma. The AG also ruled that the Committee had violated the statutorily required procedures for conducting their meetings. The “disclaimer” would not be enforced.
At the Textbook committee meeting following the release of the AG opinion, the supporters of the disclaimer tried to paint the AG as being pro-evolution because of his opinion. You know where this is going. Future elections are coming. Label the AG’s opinion as “anti-creation” and use it as an election issue. Never mind what the ruling was actually related to —committee authority and committee procedures.
Next the disclaimer supporters went to the Oklahoma state House of Representatives. Their goal was to pass a bill giving the Textbook Committee the authority to write and require disclaimers in any texts used in Oklahoma. Representative Jim Reese (R) introduced HB 1876 amending the current statute to read that the committee could, “specify the conditions which must be met for final adoption of the textbook.” This was clear authority to prescribe and require disclaimers of any type in any textbook.
In the House Education Committee, a roll call vote was taken on a “do pass” motion February 22, 2000. Roll call votes are not the normal process for committee votes. The vote was 17 “aye” and 22 “no”. It looked like it was defeated and should not come out of the committee for a vote in the House. Nope! It was not a dead issue.
On the Oklahoma Senate side, SB 1139 was introduced by Senator Crutchfield and Senator Campbell. The House Sponsor was Representative Staggs. The purpose of the bill was, “modifying qualifications for State Textbook Committee members.” There was nothing in the bill about “authority for disclaimers.” It was later passed and forwarded to the Oklahoma House.
In the House on April 5, 2000, two amendments were presented. The first was Representative Wright’s amendment that the “committee shall have the authority to insert a one page summary, opinion, or disclaimer into any textbook reviewed.” The House voted to support this amendment: 87 “aye” and 9 “no”. Amazing, since the House Education Committee had voted earlier not to support the Reese Bill which would have permitted “disclaimers”.
The second proposed amendment was even more drastic. The House was informed on Supreme Court rulings about teaching “creationism” in public schools. Ignoring court precedents, Representative Reese’s amendment said, “When adopting science textbooks, the Committee shall ensure that the textbooks include acknowledgement that human life was created by one God of the Universe.” The House voted: 49 “aye” and 49 “no”. It was not passed. But, a voting record was established for future campaign issues. Now the “no’s” could be on record as “voting against God.” The “aye’s” could be seen as “voting for God.”
What a shame that God, the origin of life, and religious principles have been turned into a political game. Make no mistake about it. The religious right knew exactly what they were doing and got exactly what they wanted.
With the first amendment being passed, the SB 1139 now had to go to a “conference committee”. The Conferees were selected and met. The “one page disclaimer” language was removed. SB 1139 again passed the Senate and was forwarded to the House. Debate on the House floor concerned putting the “one God” language back in the bill and instructing the Conference Committee to include the language in the “do pass” vote.
Representative Staggs, as primary House author of SB 1139, at the end of the session pulled the bill from consideration. The bill was not voted on and died. But, the issue for political campaign purposes has not died.
By now you are probably aware that recently the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that evolution disclaimers are another way of promoting “creationism” in science classes and thus unconstitutional. That ruling will push “creationism” and “evolution” out front as campaign issues.
Thank those who were courageous enough to oppose disclaimers and “creationism”. Inform candidates of your views. Be as outspoken in opposing evolution disclaimers and “creationism” as the religious right will be in supporting them.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”
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