Bad Bill: Creationism in Schools? Not So Intelligent Legislation

State Rep. Bill ZedlerHouse Bill 285

Rep. Bill Zedler (R-Arlington)

This bill by state Rep. Bill Zedler would essentially require universities to permit teaching or “researching” of intelligent design (which, as its proponents are at pains to point out, is totally not creationism… even if they sound a whole lot alike).

The bill’s text proposes that a university may not “discriminate against or penalize in any manner, especially with regard to employment or academic support,” any faculty member or student based on the “research relating to the theory of intelligent design or other alternate theories of the origination and development of organisms.”

None of this is unfamiliar. In 2011, Zedler put forth identical legislation in the form of House Bill 2454. His office did not return the Observer‘s request for comment on the bill.

In a phone interview with the Texas Observer, Dan Quinn, a spokesman for the Texas Freedom Network, discussed the impact of this kind of legislation, both in 2011 and now: “The argument we hear is that this is about academic freedom, and the reality is that its an academic fraud protection act. … It’s just another step in a campaign by creationists to undermine sound science in classrooms because sound science does not match their beliefs.”

Quinn is not alone is his reasoning. The 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case before the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania resulted in a 139-page ruling, which concluded that teaching intelligent design in public school science classes actually violates the First Amendment. Intelligent design is not science, the court reasoned, and so “cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.” Despite the fact that a federal court has already ruled on this issue, Zedler has now proposed this legislation twice.

There is an important distinction between protecting freedom and protecting fraud, Quinn contends. “There’s nothing wrong with Representative Zedler believing in creationism or a professor at a university believing in creationism. The issue here is whether or not colleges or universities will be required to protect academic fraud. That’s not something that you want.”

And then there’s the fact that this bill looks a lot like an answer in search of a problem.

“No one is throwing creationists off campus; no one has created a creationist hit list or black list. The issue is the research they’re doing—is it sound or is it fraudulent?” Quinn says. “No one is saying that college professors can’t do research in controversial areas; what’s important to remember, though, is that institutions of higher education have a responsibility to make sure that the research being conducted is honest and based on sound facts.”

But introducing a bill like this, Quinn says, has already accomplished one thing for sure: “It’s just one more step in making Texas a laughing stock.”

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Published at 10:00 am CST