It’s that time of year again, when legislatures throughout these united states are opening new sessions after the elections, and fundamentalist legislators renew their campaigns against teaching science in the public schools.
One of the first out of the gate this year is Kentucky, where this “Kentucky Science Education and Intellectual Freedom Act” has been introduced:
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky:
SECTION 1. A NEW SECTION OF KRS CHAPTER 158 IS CREATED TO READ AS FOLLOWS:
(1) Teachers, principals, and other school administrators are encouraged to create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories being studied.
(2) After a teacher has taught the content related to scientific theories contained in textbooks and instructional materials included on the approved lists required under KRS 156.433 and 156.435, a teacher may use, as permitted by the local school board, other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner.
(3) This section shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.
(4) This section may be cited as the Kentucky Science Education and Intellectual Freedom Act.
This bill is patterned after the Discovery Institute’s so-called “Academic Freedom” strategy, which legislators in several states have attempted to implement in recent years. This strategy has achieved its greatest level of success with legislation in Louisiana, signed into law by Gov. Jindal, which is analyzed here.
Some explanation is particularly needed for Subsection 3, which asserts that “This section shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine … or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.” Such language is routinely used in these bills as a basis for their sponsors and defenders to claim that the legislation is not an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment’s prohibition against religious establishment. Their claim is always that, in fact, not only would the law not be a promotion of religion; to the contrary, they claim, the law — in its own words — actually prohibits the promotion of religion, so that religious teaching is actually renderred illegal by this very law. But that’s not actually what this language does, as I’ve explained here, with reference to the Louisiana law .