The Evolution of Anti-Evolution Legislation: Missouri

Over the last few years, Missouri’s legislature has drawn lots of national attention, and usually not for good reasons. Both houses of our legislature are controlled by a supermajority of Republicans, so though our Democratic Governor can keep some semblance of balance, any of his vetoes can be overridden by a unified GOP. This means that there’s really not much of a check or a balance to keep the most extreme views of the Republican party to be shown on display.

And boy, are they ever on display.

There was the bill that would make it a felony to propose gun control legislation. There is a new bill that proposes bringing back firing squads for executions. And perhaps most absurdly, there’s a proposed constitutional amendment that would (unconstitutionally) nullify any action from Washington that the Tea Party doesn’t like, including gun control, abortion, climate change response, Obamacare, gay marriage, hate crime, separation of church and state, child protection, and treating the United States Constitution like a living document.

Fortunately, many of these bills have failed, either in the legislature at initial consideration or by being too extreme to overcome a veto. However, one area in which they have sometimes been successful has been in sneaking religion into the classrooms.

In 2012, the Legislature sent to the electorate a constitutional amendment called the Right-To-Pray Amendment. As you can imagine, the proposal with that name passed in the same sort of landslide that you would see for a “I Love Puppies And/Or Kittens” poll on an animal welfare website. What neither the name of the referendum nor the ballot language hinted at was the clause that affected classroom education:

that students may express their beliefs about religion in written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their work; that no student shall be compelled to perform or participate in academic assignments or educational presentations that violate his or her religious beliefs

This means that Mormon students will be able to demand an A for a paper that says that Native Americans are descendants of a tribe of Israel. This means that Hare Krishna students get to insist on As when they deny the moon landing because that’s a tenet of their religion. This means that fringe Christian students will be able to demand an A for a paper that says that the Earth is flat and the center of the Universe. This means, essentially, that any teacher of science or history has to be ready to endorse as equally valid any notion that a student claims is core to her religion.

Darwin's First Tree

Darwin’s First Tree

Including, of course, Creationism.

This indirect and deceptive attack on Evolutionary science was successful, and I’m nervous about the hidden damage this is causing in schools across the state.

Fortunately, more direct attacks on Evolution in the last few years haven’t been so successful. In 2012 and 2013, Representative Rick Brattin (the guy who suggested reinstating the firing squad) proposed identical bills with the Orwellian name “Missouri Standard Science Act”. These bills would have completely redefined science to be able to demand that teachers give as much time to the often-tested and much-validated Theory of Evolution as to the failed hypothesis of Intelligent Design. As you can imagine, there was a lot of pushback from scientists and civil libertarians, and fortunately the bill didn’t go anywhere, either year.

As the new legislative session has been starting up in Jefferson City, I have been watching the Missouri House of Representatives Bill List, expecting to see the “Missouri Standard Science Act” pop up again, but apparently Rep. Brattin has had decided on a new tactic; forget all of this Intelligent Design nonsense and just keep kids away from Evolution. Here’s the text of the new bill (HB 1472):

1. Any school district or charter school which provides instruction relating to the theory of evolution by natural selection shall be required to have a policy on parental notification and a mechanism where a parent can choose to remove the student from any part of the district’s or school’s instruction on evolution. The policy shall require the school district or charter school to notify the parent or legal guardian of each student enrolled in the district of:
    (1) The basic content of the district’s or school’s evolution instruction to be provided to the student; and
    (2) The parent’s right to remove the student from any part of the district’s or school’s evolution instruction.
2. A school district or charter school shall make all curriculum materials used in the district’s or school’s evolution instruction available for public inspection under chapter 610 prior to the use of such materials in actual instruction.

Of course, the National Center for Science Education is on the case:

NCSE’s deputy director Glenn Branch commented, “House Bill 1472 would eviscerate the teaching of biology in Missouri.” Quoting “The OOPSIE Compromise — A Big Mistake,” which Eugenie C. Scott and he wrote for Evolution: Education and Outreach in 2008, he added, “Evolution inextricably pervades the biological sciences; it therefore pervades, or at any rate ought to pervade, biology education at the K–12 level. There simply is no alternative to learning about it; there is no substitute activity. A teacher who tries to present biology without mentioning evolution is like a director trying to produce Hamlet without casting the prince.” Teachers, schools, and districts would suffer as well, Branch observed. “The value of a high school education in Missouri would be degraded.”

Tree of life with genome size

Tree of life with genome size

Brattin’s efforts to damage science education by mandating equal time for Intelligent Design failed in the past few years, but with his new approach, he might have a chance. After all, the appeal to “let parents have the final say” is tempting for legislators, even when that appeal unfairly and unreasonably is restricted to a single area of solid scientific knowledge.

Let’s work together to fight these bills that damage science education, weaken the ability of our children to understand and address complex issues, unfairly taint Evolution as a suspect course of study, and have the potential to hurt Missouri’s growing biotechnology industry.

To combat the bill, as a voter and taxpayer in Missouri, I sent this message to Rep. Brattin, his co-sponsor, and to my Representative, who fortunately supports good science education:

I am a Missouri resident, taxpayer, and constituent of Redacted‘s District Redacted. I am writing in response to the filing of House Bill 1472 to ask you to reconsider your sponsorship and co-sponsorship of this bill.

House Bill 1472 singles out Evolutionary Science as a topic from which the students of Missouri need special protection. This bill is a problem because it treats evolution as different from other science. If students are told that evolution, and only evolution, should be considered suspect, they are given an inaccurate impression of both science and the nature of Evolution.

Evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology. As Theodosius Dobzhansky famously said, “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution”. Evolution is a scientific theory that grew out of observations about fossils and living species in the 19th Century, but it has grown to encompass much more since then. Many lines of evidence come together to support the conclusions of Evolutionary theory, including biogeography, paleontology, embryology, morphology, genetics, and molecular chemistry. Evolution has been under continual attack, examination, and reconsideration since it was proposed 150 years ago, and it has survived all of the challenges. To single out Evolution for special treatment is to undervalue the power and importance of Evolution in explaining how life came to be as we know it.

Further, biotechnology is an important and growing industry for Missouri. By exempting Missouri children from learning about this important science, Missouri would be sabotaging its ability to compete and innovate in the scientific and economic spheres. Without scientific advancement, America’s pre-eminence in technology, business, communications, the military, and every other field cannot be maintained. Sacrificing Missouri’s future by misleading our students is a horrible bargain.

It’s not fair to science, and it’s not fair to the students.

Please reconsider your sponsorship of these bills.

In addition to Rep. Brattin’s HB 1472, there’s another bill called the “Missouri Student Religious Liberties Act” that might be used as a sneaky way to force teachers to accept Creationism from students, but the damage in that area was probably already done by the Right-to-Pray Amendment in 2012. Given that, unless Rep. Brattin revives the “Missouri Standard Science Act”, HB 1472 appears to be the main threat to good science education in Jefferson City this session.

If you live in Missouri and care about science, education, and our children’s future, please send something like what I wrote this to your Representative to combat this bad bill. And if you don’t live in Missouri, please keep an eye on your legislature: this sort of religious interference with scientific education happens throughout the country.

And wherever you live, please join me in supporting the National Center for Science Education, the most effective organization in defense of science education in America today.

Note: This article originally appeared on Grounded Parents. I’m crossposting it here, and it has also be crossposted on School of Doubt

About Lance Finney

Father of two boys, Angular/TypeScript developer, Ethical Humanist, and world traveler (when I can sneak it in). Contributor to Grounded Parents.
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8 Responses to The Evolution of Anti-Evolution Legislation: Missouri

  1. Pingback: Second Attack on Evolution Education in Missouri | Lance's Blog

  2. Pingback: School of Doubt | Second Attack of Evolution Education in Missouri.

  3. MLE says:

    Missouri has nothing on Louisiana.

  4. MLE says:

    If people are stupid do they retain the right to make sure their kids grow up just like them?

  5. MLE says:

    FYI – The school prayer case that went to the Supreme court was decided in favor of the joint plaintiffs a Mormon and a Catholic who didn’t want to participate in school prayer. Mormons teenagers aren’t trying to convert people to the notion of Native American’s leaving a written record of Christ in the Americas through school term assignments – you can imagine the bigoted response that paper would get in a Missouri high school where the extermination order was repealed in 1976.
    When I worked at the University of Utah Biology department I was in the main administration building named Talmage who fought to hold a different view on Evolution than his more prominent contemporaries in the church and the church leadership published both the majority and minority views. Knowing that some of us have as much as 5% Neanderthal DNA so we as a species are composed of 2 older species doesn’t mesh exactly with Darwin or with the Mormon idea that all people are endowed with the same divine birthright. Does that mean the older groups of Neanderthals had the same souls? Did they have sin? These types of questions didn’t exist for religion until recently and so they are slow to catch up but I think most teenagers are sensitive and don’t bring these up in biology class they just want to get good grades. I like evolution but it doesn’t explain everything and what teenagers need more than a fight between big bang and creation is to see where the data is coming from – what exactly carbon dating is – how do they figure out mitochondrial DNA versus chromosomal DNA linkages. Those squares that let you understand recessive and dominant inheiritance. How is a virus different from a bacteria? Why antibiotics won’t cure a cold or flu? Where does cancer come from? I think you could teach a great deal of very important life science without getting into the debate territory but it would let the kids have the tools to understand for themselves.

    • Lance Finney says:

      I understand that we haven’t seen Mormon students demanding “an A for a paper that says that Native Americans are descendants of a tribe of Israel”, and that’s to the LDS’s credit. What I’m trying to point out, though, is that opening the door to change education for one brand of Christianity also opens the same door to other religions. I don’t know that Mormons or Hare Krishnas or Flat-Earthers would use that door, but I hope that the creationists realize what they are doing.

      It is interesting to watch how religions deal with new information. Some of them adapt pretty quickly and some push back hard (and some religions have splits because different wings have both reactions. I’m curious how Mormonism will adapt.

  6. Lance Finney says:

    Here’s a revealing excerpt from an update on this bill from the National Center for Science Education:

    Interviewed by the Kansas City Star (February 6, 2014), the bill’s sponsor Rick Brattin (R-District 55) said that requiring students to study evolution is “an absolute infringement on people’s rights” and that evolution is “just as much faith and, you know, just as much pulled out of the air as, say, any religion.”

    Oh, Rick…

  7. Pingback: Show Me Some Good Bills | Lance's Blog

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