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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Oklahoma's "Religious Expression" Act

In Oklahoma, Representatives Mike Reynolds and Sally Kern, both Republicans from Oklahoma City, have again filed a "religious expression" bill, which they say will protect students who express religious viewpoints in the classroom or assignments from being penalized (or rewarded). The measure, known officially as the "Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act," is essentially the same as a bill that was passed earlier this year by both the House and Senate before being vetoed by Governor Brad Henry.
According to Kern, the "bill does not exempt students from learning the required classroom instruction. If passed, the bill would put already existing U.S. Supreme Court decisions into Oklahoma statutes." But many, including the Oklahoma Science Teachers Association, believe the bill is an attempt to sneak religious ideas into public school science classrooms, given that it "would require full classroom credit to be given to religious explanations of scientific phenomena." In response to the bill filed during last legislative session, the association issued the following statement:

The Oklahoma Science Teachers Association (OSTA) is dedicated to the promotion and development of high quality science education for all students in Oklahoma. The development of a scientifically literate citizenry, conversant in principles and processes of science, is essential for any state or nation to be competitive in a global economy. The effort to grow 21st century industry and agriculture, including Oklahoma’s burgeoning research in nanotechnology and biotechnology, depends on the availability of a scientifically literate workforce that understands the process of posing and testing hypotheses, logically evaluating the results, and expanding our understanding of the natural world. OSTA believes the provisions of HB 2211 hold great potential for harm to the development of scientifically literate citizens in this state. Teachers will be shackled in their efforts to guide students to explore scientific data and explanation and will be forced to give full credence and course credit to viewpoints that have no scientific data or basis. The damage to the credibility of an Oklahoma high school diploma cannot be overstated. While some might posit that examination and exploration of alternative viewpoints is appropriate in a classroom, those ideas that are not scientific and cannot be tested have no place in a science classroom. Under the provisions of this bill, teachers will be required to give full forum to non-scientific viewpoints and will be prevented from explaining that such ideas have no scientific support. Provisions currently in law and expressed in the Constitution give ample protection for religious expression within schools. The Oklahoma Science Teachers Association believes the late Harvard Paleontologist Steven J. Gould’s concept of “Nonoverlapping Magisteria” accurately reflects the interaction of science and religion; both having important, but non-interacting roles in helping us make sense of our place in the physical and spiritual world. HB 2211 actively violates that concept in a direct effort to inject religious viewpoints into public school classrooms and should not be enacted.
Heather Wax


James Crews said...

I agree with the OSTA position on Oklahoma's Religious Expression Act.

James Crews
Environmental Science Teacher