Antievolution bill proposed for Missouri schools

Robert Wayne Cooper, a Republican member of the Missouri House of Representatives, has proposed a bill that would require school administrators to “assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies.”

What scientific controversies, you may ask? According to the bill, this would include “the theory of biological and hypotheses of chemical evolution.”

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE), an organization promoting the teaching of evolution in schools, reports on this bill in an article which also gives some background into previous attempts to attack evolution in Missouri. The frustrating thing is that lawmakers are getting craftier in wording such bills. On the surface, the current bill doesn’t sound that bad. According to the proposed legislation,

Teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of the theory of biological and hypotheses of chemical evolution.

Helping students to apply critical thinking in their learning is normally a laudable goal. But what purpose could Rep. Cooper have in mind by singling out evolution in his bill besides a veiled attempt to support the teaching of intelligent design / biblical creationism as an alternative to evolution? Especially in light of his previous efforts to legistlate in the matter, including a 2004 bill which would have mandated “equal time” for evolution and intelligent design, according to the NCSE article. That bill also stipulated that:

Willful neglect of any elementary or secondary school superintendent, principal, or teacher to observe and carry out the requirements of this section shall be cause for termination of his or her contract.

I’m not the first to point out the irony that attempts to slip creationism into the classroom have been “evolving”, but it is both frustrating and worrisome that some government officials are still trying to sneak religion into our classrooms.

In God they don’t vote

As promised, here is an update on the "In God We Trust" vote . In the Senate, the proposal was accepted by voice vote, so we don’t have a record of  who did or didn’t support engraving In God We Trust and The Pledge of Allegiance in the Capitol Visitor Center. Here on the House’s site is the list of Yeas, Nays, Presents, and No Votes for the House vote.

The 8 who voted against it are:

Conyers (Michigan)
Edwards (Maryland)
Hirono (Hawaii)
Honda (California)
McDermott (Washington)
Paul (Texas)
Scott (Virgina)
Stark (California)

Pete Stark (CA) is the only one who is openly atheist. He "came out" on a 2006 questionnaire sent by the Secular Coalition for America . According to the LA Times , 22 representatives reported not having a belief in God to the SCA, but asked not to be publicly identified (likely because of the political fallout that might occur among some of their constituents).

Here are the two who voted present (e.g. I’m here, but am not going to vote either way):

Farr (California)
Moran (VA)

Then there were 12 people who were absent from the vote:

Buyer (Indiana)
DeLauro (Connecticut)
Fudge (Ohio)
Granger (Texas)
Kaptur (Ohio)
Larson (Connecticut)
Linder (Georgia)
McHenry (North Carolina)
Murphy (New York)
Murtha (Pennsylvania)
Sherman (California)
Stupak (Michigan)

Besides Stark, I’m unaware of the professed religious beliefs (or lack thereof) of the others. If I find out, I will update this post. Voting against the In God We Trust / Pledge engravings does not necessarily indicate atheism or freethought; they may simply not want to waste additional tax dollars on the overbudget Visitor Center, for example.

Voting present may mean any number of things, from supporting a bill in general but objecting to some issue in it, to being against it and not wanting to be on the record as voting against it. The Secular Coalition for America counts "present" votes as voting the "incorrect" way on bills and resolutions they identify as important. I think that’s a little unfair, so I’ll have to look into their ratings a little more. The non-voting members either simply weren’t there, didn’t feel it was important enough to vote on, or stayed away on purpose. Unless they state why, there’s no way to know.

One Rep who Wikipedia identifies, along with Stark, as being a Unitarian Universalist (Congressman Walter Minnick of Idaho) voted FOR the bill, which goes to show again that UUs, atheists, and others can’t all be lumped together, as some like to do.

The reasons for voting against the bill or not going on the record either way are varied, and I haven’t found any statements explaining why from the Representatives who fall in those categories. With increased religious diversity in the Congress, and a number of congresspeople not believing in a higher power, maybe a day will come where it’s not taboo to speak out against forcing religious on others in the Capitol.