Here We Go Again, New Mexico Edition

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Another antievolution bill has just been introduced in the New Mexico House:

AN ACT RELATING TO PUBLIC EDUCATION; PROVIDING FOR PROTECTION OF TEACHERS AND STUDENTS REGARDING THE TEACHING OF CONTROVERSIAL SCIENTIFIC TOPICS.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF NEW MEXICO: SECTION 1. A new section of the Public School Code is enacted to read: “[NEW MATERIAL] TEACHING OF CONTROVERSIAL SCIENTIFIC TOPICS.–
A. The department, school district governing authorities and school administrators shall not prohibit any teacher, when a controversial scientific topic is being taught in accordance with adopted standards and curricula, from informing students about relevant scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses pertaining to that topic. A teacher who chooses to provide such information shall be protected from reassignment, termination, discipline or other discrimination for doing so.
B. This section only protects the teaching of scientific information and specifically does not protect the promotion of any religion, religious doctrine or religious belief.
C. Public school teachers may hold students accountable for knowing and understanding material taught in accordance with adopted standards and curricula, but public school teachers shall not penalize a student in any way because that student subscribes to a particular position on the controversial scientific topic being taught.
D. For purposes of this section:
(1) “controversial scientific topic” includes biological origins, biological evolution, causes of climate change, human cloning and other scientific topics that are often viewed by society as controversial; and
(2) “scientific information” means information derived from observation, experimentation and analyses regarding various aspects of the natural world conducted to determine the nature of or principles behind the aspects being studied. “Scientific information” may include information that coincides or harmonizes with religious tenets, but does not include information derived from religious writings, beliefs or doctrines.”

Analysis below the fold.

The proposed legislation is not needed by New Mexico’s students or teachers. New Mexico’s existing standards already protect students from religious indoctrination or harassment by their teachers. Furthermore, the bill is unconstitutional as written, and its passage and enactment will almost certainly result in expensive litigation.

The bill is not original with New Mexicans, but instead, clearly inspired by the “Intelligent Design” movement; for example, the pro-ID think tank, Seattle’s Discovery Institute, promotes a “model” bill that says

Students may be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials, but no student in any public school or institution of higher education shall be penalized in any way because he or she may subscribe to a particular position on any views regarding biological or chemical evolution. … Nothing in this act shall be construed as promoting any religious doctrine, promoting discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promoting discrimination for or against religion or non-religion.

(Source: http://www.academicfreedompetition.com/freedom.php, by Casey Luskin, cluskin@discovery.org, program officer for public policy and legal affairs at Discovery Institute.)

Compare this to Sections 1.B and 1.C of the proposed New Mexico bill, HB0302:

This section only protects the teaching of scientific information and specifically does not protect the promotion of any religion, religious doctrine or religious belief. Public school teachers may hold students accountable for knowing and understanding material taught in accordance with adopted standards and curricula, but public school teachers shall not penalize a student in any way because that student subscribes to a particular position on the controversial scientific topic being taught.

This bill suffers from the same problems as its predecessor, SB433, which was scuttled in the 2009 session. One serious problem is that teachers would be forced to pass students who described evolution on a biology test simply as “too complicated to happen naturally, proving God did it.”

A second problem was critical in New Mexico’s Public Education Department (PED) warnings about the failed 2009 legislation: > “Although the bill’s definition of ‘scientific information’ excludes information derived from religious or philosophical writings, beliefs or doctrines, > SB 433 goes on to say that scientific information may have religious or > philosophical implications and remain scientific in nature. The PED > analysis states that this point would allow the teaching of theories of > biological origins such as intelligent design or creationism.”

The new bill, HB0302, no longer mentions “religious or philosophical implications,” but now reads “‘Scientific information’ may include information that coincides or harmonizes with religious tenets, but does not include information derived from religious writings, beliefs or doctrines.” Clearly, this would not alleviate the state’s concerns about the bill allowing the teaching of intelligent design or creationism.

The major difference between the new bill and previous legislation is its addition of climate change and human cloning to “controversial scientific topics” like biological evolution. These topics are not “controversial” as regards scientific accuracy – whether these things are actually happening – but instead, simply in regard to their association with particular religious and/or partisan viewpoints.

HB0302 is a train wreck waiting to happen. I hope it doesn’t get out of committee.

Please, no massive letter campaigns yet. Let’s see if and when it’s going to committee.