Late last week, CBLDF joined a coalition of free-speech advocates objecting to a bill in the South Dakota legislature that attempts to weaken science education standards in the state by allowing teachers to advance their own views on topics such as evolution and climate change. Proponents of the bill have adopted a specious free-speech argument, but the letter counters that “the First Amendment does not require the teaching of every opinion on a subject, because not all ideas are equally valid.”
Senate Bill 55 purports to allow teachers to “analyze, critique, or review in an objective scientific manner the strengths and weaknesses of scientific information” — in other words, to present theories that contrast with those in state education standards. The bill, which is similar to others that failed in each of the past two years, has already passed the Senate and is awaiting a hearing in the House Education Committee.
The bill has already drawn opposition from the South Dakota Department of Education and a host of general and science-specific education associations, as well as Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Last week’s letter from NCAC took particular issue with proponents’ claim that the bill is justified on First Amendment grounds:
The First Amendment has never been interpreted to allow, much less require, the dilution of educational standards. Scientists and science educators should determine together what should be taught in science class. Individual teachers should not be permitted to contravene that determination in favor of their own personal opinions; nor should legislators enact a bill that would allow or encourage them to do so. Doing otherwise would undermine science education in the state and disadvantage its students as they compete for college admission and jobs.
Similar bills are currently filed in Indiana, Oklahoma, and Texas, but South Dakota’s is the only one that has already passed through one house of the legislature. Ironically, two other recent disputes over science education actually did involve attempts at censorship: in 2014 the school board in Gilbert, Arizona nearly censored two pages on contraception and abortion from an honors biology textbook, and last year the Florida legislature failed to pass two bills facilitating challenges to instructional materials that allegedly fail to provide a balanced viewpoint on hot-button issues such as evolution, climate change, and LGBTQ rights and relationships.
Read the full NCAC letter regarding South Dakota’s SB 55 below!
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.