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Evolution Opponents on the Offensive in Senate, House

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  • Chris Ashcraft
    http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis107/evolution_update0601.html SPECIAL UPDATE: Evolution Opponents on the Offensive in Senate, House (Posted 6-19-01) ... IN A
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 27, 2001

      SPECIAL UPDATE: Evolution Opponents on the Offensive in Senate, House
      (Posted 6-19-01)


      IN A NUTSHELL: A day before the Senate completed action on a
      comprehensive education bill that it had debated for six weeks, Sen.
      Rick Santorum (R-PA) introduced a two-sentence amendment drafted by
      evolution opponents. The amendment, presented in the form of a Senate
      resolution, defines "good science education" and encourages teaching
      the "controversy" surrounding biological evolution. Amidst a flurry
      of other amendments, the Senate voted 91-8 in favor of the provision
      on its way to passing the entire bill by the same margin. Earlier, a
      group of conservative representatives had stripped a science testing
      provision out of the House counterpart bill in part because of
      concerns that the tests would include evolution-related questions.
      Differences between the two bills will be worked out in a House-
      Senate conference likely to take place in early July.


      Last summer, proponents of intelligent design creationism held a
      Capitol Hill briefing to educate congressional members and staff on
      the failures of Darwinism and their alternative proposals (see a
      summary at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/id_update.html). They
      also lectured their audience on the moral decay that the teaching of
      Darwinism had wrought on society. A panel discussion was moderated by
      David DeWolf, a law professor at Gonzaga University in Spokane,
      Washington and author of a legal brief on how to get intelligent
      design into public school curriculum. Like most of the other speakers
      at the briefing, DeWolf is a senior fellow at the Seattle-based
      Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture,
      a conservative think tank dedicated to promulgating intelligent
      design as an alternative theory to evolution.

      Up until that briefing took place, the political debate over the
      teaching of evolution in public schools had taken place at the state
      and local level, but the briefing appeared to be a disturbing
      expansion of anti-evolution efforts into the federal legislature.
      That appearance is now reality with DeWolf and briefing speaker
      Phillip Johnson, a law professor at the University of California at
      Berkeley and CRSC senior fellow, taking center stage.

      K-12 Education Bill Used as Vehicle

      Education was a campaign priority for President Bush, and the first
      bills introduced this year in both the House and Senate (H.R.1 and
      S.1, respectively) are comprehensive overhauls of the Elementary and
      Secondary Education Act of 1965, which covers most federal aid
      programs for states and local school districts. S.1, entitled the
      Better Education for Students and Teachers Act, was passed by the
      Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee in March, having
      been introduced by the committee's then-chairman Jim Jeffords (now I-
      VT). The full Senate took it up in May with hundreds of amendments
      being offered and considered. After the Memorial Day recess and
      Jeffords' departure from the Republican Party, debate on the floor
      resumed in June with new HELP chairman Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA)
      managing the debate.

      On the morning of June 13th, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) rose to speak
      on his amendment #799, which he handed in the previous evening. It is
      a non-binding "Sense of the Senate" resolution, a common tactic used
      to put the Senate on record about a given subject without worrying
      about statutory implications. According to Santorum, his amendment
      dealt "with the subject of intellectual freedom with respect to the
      teaching of science in the classroom, in primary and secondary
      education. It is a sense of the Senate that does not try to dictate
      curriculum to anybody; quite the contrary, it says there should be
      freedom to discuss and air good scientific debate within the
      classroom. In fact, students will do better and will learn more if
      there is this intellectual freedom to discuss."He then stated that
      the amendment was "simply two sentences--frankly, two rather
      innocuous sentences." The amendment reads:

      "It is the sense of the Senate that-- "(1) good science education
      should prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories
      of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in
      the name of science; and "(2) where biological evolution is taught,
      the curriculum should help students to understand why this subject
      generates so much continuing controversy, and should prepare the
      students to be informed participants in public discussions regarding
      the subject."

      Santorum then went on to read an extended passage by DeWolf lauding
      the benefits of "a more open discussion of biological origins in the
      science classroom." Although most amendments, especially non-binding
      ones, are simply added by unanimous consent or withdrawn without a
      vote, Santorum called for a roll call vote to put the Senate on
      record. Kennedy, the floor manager, then expressed his support for
      the amendment. With nobody speaking against it, the amendment passed
      by a 91-8 vote. All Democrats voted for it (except Sen. Chris Dodd, D-
      CT, who was absent). The eight Republicans who voted against the
      amendment (Chafee, RI; Cochran, MS; Collins, ME; DeWine, OH; Enzi,
      WY; Hagel, NE; Stevens, AK; Thompson, TN) were opposed on the grounds
      that it was an unnecessary federal intrusion in a state and local
      matter. The full text of Santorum's remarks from the Congressional
      Record are available at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/R?
      r107:FLD001:S06148 on pages S6147-48, Kennedy's remarks are on S6150,
      and supporting statements by Brownback, R-KS, and Byrd, D-WV, are at

      Whether or not one views the specific language of the amendment as
      innocuous or unobjectionable, this vote has become a public relations
      bonanza for the intelligent design creationists. The Discovery
      Institute put out a press release stating: "Undoubtedly this will
      change the face of the debate over the theories of evolution and
      intelligent design in America. From now on the evidence will be free
      to speak for itself. It also seems that the Darwinian monopoly on
      public science education, and perhaps on the biological sciences in
      general, is ending." The Senate vote is also being portrayed as a
      vindication of the 1999 decision by the Kansas Board of Education to
      remove evolution from state tests (a vote subsequently overturned
      when several of the school board members were defeated in the 2000
      elections). Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) told the Washington Times (6-18-
      01) that it "cleared the record." In a speech supporting Santorum's
      amendment, he argued: "The great and bold statement that the Kansas
      School Board made was … simply that we observe micro-evolution and
      therefore it is scientific fact; and that it is impossible to observe
      macro-evolution, it is scientific assumption.... [Santorum] clarifies
      the opinion of the Senate that the debate of scientific fact versus
      scientific assumption is an important debate to embrace."

      How did this amendment come about? In the same Washington Times
      article, Phillip Johnson took credit for helping to frame the
      amendment's language: "I offered some language to Senator Santorum,
      after he had decided to propose a resolution of this sort." According
      to his web site, Johnson visited a number of Capitol Hill offices
      early in June to meet with senators and representatives. Johnson is
      the author of several anti-evolution books, including "Darwin on
      Trial," and speaks widely on this subject.

      A Broader Offensive

      Evolution also came up as an issue in the House education bill, H.R.
      1. As passed by the House Education and the Workforce Committee, H.R.
      1 included a provision mandating that students be tested on science
      in addition to the reading and math testing provisions called for in
      the original bill -- a presidential priority. Scientific societies
      pushed for the testing provision lest science lose attention as
      resources are concentrated on tested subjects.

      Before any bill can be considered on the House floor, it must pass
      through the Rules Committee, which decides how much debate will be
      allowed, which amendments will be in order, and other procedural
      matters. The committee can also amend the bill so that what is
      considered on the floor is different from what was passed in
      committee earlier. In response to concerns raised by a group of
      conservative lawmakers, the committee (chaired by Rep. David Dreier,
      R-CA) removed the science testing provision in this manner. Sources
      report that a major reason for the opposition was that testing might
      include evolution-related questions.

      Although Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) was assured that he would be given
      the opportunity to propose a floor amendment restoring the science
      testing provision, he was never allowed to do so despite support for
      his amendment from Education and the Workforce Committee chairman
      John Boehner (R-OH).

      The Next Step

      A House-Senate conference committee must work out differences in the
      two bills -- both bodies must vote on an identical measure before it
      goes to the president for his signature, which is expected. Conferees
      have yet to be named but will surely include senior members of the
      Senate HELP Committee and the House Education and the Workforce
      Committee. Senators Kennedy and Judd Gregg (R-NH), the senior
      Republican on the HELP Committee, will certainly be on it as perhaps
      will S. 1 author Jeffords. On the House side, Boehner and ranking
      Democrat Rep. George Miller (D-CA) will be on it.

      In addition to efforts to restore science testing provisions,
      scientific societies including AGI are considering options for how to
      address the Santorum amendment. Given the clear public rejection of
      the 1999 Kansas school board's action, it does not seem likely that
      the majority of the senators who voted for the amendment share
      Brownback's opinion of its implications or agree with the Discovery
      Institute that their purpose was to "change the face of the debate
      over the theories of evolution and intelligent design in America."
      Indeed, faced with such rhetoric, they might just decide that
      Santorum presented his "innocuous" amendment to them as something
      other than the anti-evolution stalking horse that it truly is.


      Special update prepared by David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs
      Sources: American Physical Society, Congressional Record, Discovery
      Institute, Washington Times.

      Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI
      Government Affairs Program at govt@....
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