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Evolution Debate in Montana (1-21-05)

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Recent Action

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 a joint 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."

Previous Action

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

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