Evolution Debate in Montana (1-21-05)
Since the November elections, Montana Senators Toole (D-Helena) and
Koopman (R-Bozeman) have proposed two opposing bills regarding the
inclusion of evolution alternatives (such as Intelligent Design) in
school science curriculum. Following the "objective origins"
controversy in Darby, MT last summer (see below), Senator Toole introduced
resolution "recognizing the importance of separation of church
and state and supporting the right of local school board trustees
to adopt a science curriculum based on sound scientific principles
and supported by science teachers, parents, and the local community."
As promised during his candidacy for the state senate, Senator Koopman
promptly began a draft proposal upon his election for a bill entitled,
"Allow teaching competing theories of origin."
According to a report in The
Bozeman Daily Chronicle, both senators have been motivated by
the legal conflict in Darby as well as those in other state school
districts (Pennsylvania, Georgia) involving the place of intelligent
design in science curricula. Both sides of the political debate are
highly charged; according to the article, Toole expressed concern
that Christian fundamentalist groups have been trying to force creationism
on schools across the country in recent years, while Koopman accused
those who "try to ban scientific data that supports intelligent
design" and insistence on "an atheistic model" as the
source of religious bias, calling the Montana school board decision
in Darby last summer "heavy-handed bureaucratic meddling."
On July 5th the Darby, Montana school board voted 3-2 to reject the
"objective origins" policy introduced in February. The original
version was accepted 3-2 in February, but the proposal, which was
intended to give students "a qualified and responsible criticism
of Darwinian evolution," failed to pass on its second reading,
which is a requirement for any new policy. Several of the board members
were concerned that the policy had not been approved by the Montana
Office of Public Instruction, which had a high potential of inciting
lawsuits. One board member stated that the No Child Left Behind Policy
supports the proposed analysis of evolution. The date of the specially
scheduled meeting, on a national holiday, also drew complaints by
some of the board members and residents. The board, however, voted
3-2 in favor of proceeding with the vote. The failure of the policy
was attributed to a May 4th school board election, in which an incumbent
who favored the policy was defeated while an opponent of the policy
was re-elected. The vote drew more than 50% of registered voters to
the polls. (7/9/04)
On April 6th the Americans United for Separation of Church and State
sent a letter to the superintendent of schools in Darby, Montana requesting
all documents relating to any decision of the school board to teach
theories on the origins of human life, including evolution, creationism,
intelligent design or any other objective origins theories. This request
was spurred by the Darby school boards recent preliminary approval
to change school policy to include objective origins theory, usually
a form of creationism or intelligent design, in the curriculum. (4/16/04)
Sources: American Insitute of Biological Sciences Public Policy
Report; National Center for Science Education; Ravalli News;
The Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
Contributed by Emily M. Lehr, AGI Government Affairs Program; 2004
AGI/AAPG Spring Semester Intern Gayle Levy; Ashlee Dere, AGI/AIPG
2004 Summer Intern; Katie Ackerly, AGI/AAPG 2005 Spring Intern.
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on January 21, 2005