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Evolution Debate in Arkansas (3-18-05)

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Recent Action

According to the March 17, 2005, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, House Bill 2607 died in committee. The bill, introduced by first-term legislator Mike Martin (R-District 87), would have required the state Department of Education to include "intelligent design" in its educational frameworks and also encouraged teachers in the state to include it in their lesson plans. The bill was referred to the House Rules Committee, for reasons that are unclear: the committee's hearings on HB 2607 focused on why it was referred there, and not to the House Education Committee. Martin, for his part, averred that his intention was not to have schools teach students that God exists or that evolution is false, but only to "restore to science the agnostic viewpoint that there could be or could not be rather than the dogmatism that actually currently exists ... that absolutely precludes the existence of God." The Democrat-Gazette also quoted Martin as saying that although he is unsure about evolution, he thinks that it is not necessarily incompatible with "my strict Christian beliefs, or, quite frankly, my belief in the inerrancy of Scripture." (3/18/05)

Previous Action

House Bill 2607 was introduced in the Arkansas House of Representatives as a shell bill on March 4, 2005, and amended and engrossed on March 10, 2005. The bill, if enacted would allow the teaching of "intelligent design" as "a parallel to evolutionary theory" in the public schools of Arkansas. If enacted, the bill would require the state Department of Education to include "intelligent design" in its educational frameworks and encourage teachers in the state to include it in their lesson plans. Attempting to immunize itself against a likely challenge to its constitutionality, the bill describes "intelligent design" as not necessarily "attributing the creation of the world or it's [sic] creatures to any god or gods."

Rita Sklar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, however, commented, "This is a blatant attempt to push religious dogma into our public schools; I feel confident that the Arkansas legislature will reject it. We all remember the 1981 creationism debacle, and we don't want Arkansas to be a national laughingstock again." The bill also echoes the so-called Santorum language included in the congressional report that accompanied the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, adding, "The prohibition of teaching alternative scientific theories is the cruelest and most abusive form of censorship because it prevents the very debate necessary for the scientific proof or disproof of competing theory."

The sole sponsor of HB 2607 is Mike Martin (R-District 87), a first-term legislator. (3/14/05)

Sources: National Center for Science Education, American Institute of Biological Sciences; Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Contributed by Emily Lehr Wallace, AGI Government Affairs Program

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated on March 18, 2005