fwd: further news on US Senate and evolution

Peter Rauch peterr at SOCRATES.BERKELEY.EDU
Fri Jun 29 06:39:45 CDT 2001


>>> Posting number 5450, dated 28 Jun 2001 09:33:36
Sender: "Ecological Society of America: grants, jobs, news"
         <ECOLOG-L at UMDD.UMD.EDU>
From:    Karen Claxon <kclaxon at EARTHLINK.NET>
Subject: Fw: further news on Senate and evolution

----- Original Message -----
From: "Dan felps" <edrioasteroid at HOTMAIL.COM>
More disturbing news about the "innocuous" language added to the
education bill.  This update comes from the American Geological
Institute
  Dan Phelps
 http://www.uky.edu/OtherOrgs/KPS/

  SPECIAL UPDATE: EVOLUTION OPPONENTS ON THE OFFENSIVE IN
SENATE, HOUSE (POSTED 6-19-01)  this update was originally sent
out as an e-mail message to agi's member societies.

 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 S6152.

 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
Program Sources: American Physical Society, Congressional Record,
Discovery Institute, Washington Times.




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