Intelligent design bill coming soon

Where did we come from? How should we explain that to students?

One lawmaker has proposed a bill that would allow teachers to teach students about intelligent design — the theory that life was created by a designing intelligence, often with a religious undertone.

You can read about the bill here.

In essence, Senate Bill 112 would would make it illegal for a school board or a school administrator to prohibit teachers in public or private schools from teaching students about intelligent design and “other related topics.”

Sen. Jeff Monroe, R-Pierre, sponsored the bill and said it isn’t aimed at any specific religion.

"In our society, it’s a social debate," he said Friday. "Are we animals, did we come out of the slime and are we monkeys, genetically altered over time, or are we designed by intelligence? Interpret that however a person wants to."

The supreme court  has interpreted it as being unconstitutional to teach it alongside evolution, one of the more recent cases involving a school in Pennsylvania.

Traditionally students are taught one or the other, with primarily private religious schools teaching intelligent design, and public schools teaching evolution. The Sioux Falls School Board opposes the bill and the Associated School Boards of South Dakota is watching the discussion.

Monroe said his constituents asked for he bill. He said it allows students who can’t afford private schools to learn non-evolution-based theories. In Monroe’s bill, it leaves the question of “how we got here” up to the individual teacher to answer. 

"Schools don’t have to do anything different, if they want to teach environmental accidental-ism, that’s fine. If they want to teach both, they can teach both, too," Monroe said. He thinks teachers should be allowed to share their beliefs.

Amanda Novotny of the Sioux Falls-based Siouxland Freethinkers, opposes the bill. In cases where schools have been required to teach intelligent design, legal action has declared it unconstitutional.

Monroe’s bill does not require it. 

Novotny references the case of a group of parents vs the Dover Area School District, a  case which the Supreme Court ruled in 2005 it was unconstitutional for the Pennsylvania school district to present intelligent design as an alternative to evolution to high school biology courses. The high court said intelligent design is a religious viewpoint that advances “a particular version of Christianity,” according to a New York Times article on the ruling. 

"It’s a gross church-state violation," Novotny said of SB 112. "The way the bill is written is really opening them up for the same type of court cases to happen."

The bill also is vague enough to allow districts or administrators to vary their interpretations, Novotny said. 

"What they haven’t thought about, is conversely, they could also take it and teach that (intelligent design) is not true, because the bill is worded vaguely," Novotny said.  "It’s really putting a lot of the decision making on the teacher as far as the science curriculum."

The Sioux Falls School District opposes the bill.

"What should and should not be taught is dictated by the written curriculum for the given subject area as approved by the local school board. A teacher must follow the adopted curriculum,” the district says in their legislative position document.

The Associated School Boards of South Dakota is “monitoring” the bill.

Monroe said he anticipates there to be some debate, and looks forward to it.

No hearing date has been set yet, but Monroe anticipates it will likely be heard in the Senate Education Committee within the next few meetings.

It should be an interesting discussion.