This article originally appeared in Censorship News Issue 126
Using spurious First Amendment arguments, state legislators around the country are attacking science education, particularly the teaching of evolution and climate change. Supporters of SB 55 in South Dakota claimed the bill was necessary to protect the academic freedom and free speech rights of teachers. NCAC explained that while teachers have the right to their own opinions, they don’t have a First Amendment right to “deviate from, and possibly contradict, professionally developed science standards adopted by state educators.” The bill was defeated. Similarly, the Indiana Senate recently passed a resolution expressing support for a “diverse curriculum” about topics like evolution “that may generate controversy”; legislators in Florida are proposing bills to allow “any resident of a county” to challenge curricular materials that they think don’t provide a “balanced viewpoint”; and in Oklahoma, an anti-evolution legislator proposed a bill that would allow teachers to promote alternative theories, such as creationism. Approximately 70 such bills have been introduced since 2004, according to the National Center for Science Education, but the pace has recently increased. NCAC is working with NCSE to protect science education from attempts to undermine it using the First Amendment as a ruse.
Lawmakers in two states do not want students to learn about sex in school. In New Hampshire, HB 103 would require schools to provide two weeks advance parental notification prior to the use of materials “for instruction of human sexuality or human sexual education.” Not only does the bill stigmatize education about sexual health, NCAC argued to the legislators and governor that it also invites challenges to literature. In Virginia, legislators are not giving up their crusade to pass the so-called Beloved bill. The bill, originating from one parent’s desire to remove the Toni Morrison novel from classrooms, would require teachers to notify parents whenever “sexually explicit” materials are to be taught in class. Since November, NCAC wrote three times to urge policymakers to reject the bill, arguing that it wrongly labels valuable educational material and prioritizes the views of certain parents over others. Governor McAuliffe vetoed the bill last year. He vetoed it again this year, after legislators ignored the decision of the state board of education, which rejected the proposal.