Evolution Opponents on the Offensive in Senate, House
SPECIAL UPDATE: Evolution Opponents on the Offensive in Senate, House
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
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@....