SOME states seem to go through a spasm of creationist legislative activity every year, and South Carolina is one of them. In 2008, it was one of those anti-science, anti-evolution, creationism-friendly laws inspired by the misleadingly-named Academic Freedom Act, promoted by the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids). We reported on that here.
The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) reports today that it’s happening again: Antievolution legislation in South Carolina.
The proposed law starts out with a series of legislative findings, including:
(5) that the United State Supreme Court recognizes atheism as equivalent to a religion for the purposes of the First Amendment; and
That’s a bit sneaky. Finding #5 can easily be misunderstood. Only an imbecile would think that atheism is literally equivalent to religion. The case it refers to probably isn’t from the US Supreme Court. In all likelihood it refers to Kaufman v Mccaughtry, from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which holds that a prison inmate’s religious liberties include allowing atheists to conduct study groups, just as religious prisoners are allowed to do. That case does, however, mention a few US Supreme Court opinions that give atheism the same protection as religion, so they may be regarded as equivalent with respect to an individual’s freedom — but of course atheism certainly isn’t religion.
Well, technically, finding #5 only speaks of “atheism as equivalent to a religion for the purposes of the First Amendment,” so up to this point we can’t really disagree. But the stage is set for some confusion. Also, when you read the rest of the bill, you may be wondering what purpose finding #5 serves, except to inject confusion.
Now we come to finding #6, with bold added by us:
(6) that teaching atheism or any of its principals [sic], including, but not limited to, the denial of the existence of a Supreme Being, as a philosophical system of beliefs or in a manner that affirmatively opposes or shows hostility to religion, thus exhibiting a preference for those who believe in no religion over those who hold religious beliefs, violates the First Amendment.
Sneaky, sneaky! Does teaching evolution show “hostility to religion?” Does it exhibit “a preference for those who believe in no religion over those who hold religious beliefs”? If so, then teaching evolution violates the First Amendment. If this bill passes, that’s a “finding” of the legislature. Neat, huh?
Then, armed with those “findings,” we get into the meat of the bill. It says:
(B) The State Board of Education shall examine all curriculum in use in this State that purports to teach students about the origins of mankind to determine whether the curriculum maintains neutrality toward religion, favoring neither one religion over other religions, nor religion over non-religion, including atheism. Related to non-religion, the examination must include a review as to whether the curriculum contains a sense of affirmatively opposing or showing hostility to religion, thus preferring those who believe in no religion over those who hold religious beliefs. The duty to review curriculum imposed by this section is continuing and must reoccur periodically after the initial review in order to assure compliance with this section.
Isn’t that sweet? The bill is aimed at teaching “the origins of mankind.” We know what that means. Evolution is out! What if a course in geology or astronomy teaches that the world is older than 6,000 years, thus ignoring the creation account in Genesis (which includes an account of the origin of mankind). Is that a failure to maintain neutrality toward religion? You know the creationists’ answer. The bill goes on to say:
If the board’s examination determines that any curriculum fails to maintain the neutrality required by subsection (B), the offending curriculum must be revised or replaced as soon as practicable, but no later than the beginning of the next academic year.
Good bye evolution. And probably good bye astronomy and geology. Oh, and have a nice education, kiddies!
You’re undoubtedly wondering what genius proposed this law. It’s a name we recall from last year’s creationist effort in South Carolina — Senator Michael Fair. He’s a full-blown creationist, and he’s been promoting these laws in his state for years. Here’s his page at the website of the South Carolina legislature. It informs us that his occupation is “insurance,” which we assume means he sells it. Wikipedia has an article on him: Michael L. Fair, but it’s not very informative.
The NCSE article gives some detail on Fair’s prior legislative efforts regarding creationism. They also point out that:
The first year of the current two-year legislative session ended on May 21, 2009, so S. 873 is not likely to be considered until the second year begins in 2010.
So we have some time to think about this one.
As with all creationist laws, we recommend that legislators should give serious consideration to The Curmudgeon’s Amendment. It should prevent this bill from mandating that intelligent design or creation science be taught. But it won’t prevent creationists from claiming that science isn’t neutral regarding religion.
[Addendum: One of our operatives informs us that there’s another such bill pending in South Carolina, with the same sponsor. It’s S. 875.]
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