On April 7th, Arkansas’s House Bill 1701, which would allow Christian beliefs to be taught in schools, passed the House vote 72 to 21. The voting was strictly partisan, with Republicans having the majority.
SHAME: The Arkansas House just passed an unconstitutional bill that allows public schools to teach the Christian theory of creationism as science. https://t.co/TV9vdwyEPy
— American Atheists (@AmericanAtheist) April 8, 2021
Representative Mary Bentley sponsored this bill, and she thinks HB 1701 will result in healthy classroom debates. She said she proposed this bill after science teachers in her district inquired about it. “There are great scientists that have different views. We should be able to embrace that and discuss it. I think children learn from debate,” Bently said.
The bill would allow public schools to teach students in grades K-12 about the Christian theory of creationism by a divine entity as a ‘scientific’ option regarding life's origin. It proposes that Christian doctrine may be taught as a science-oriented explanation of earth’s existence as well as in religion and philosophy classes.
This same proposed law was considered by the United States Supreme Court in 1987 and rejected. It ruled that teaching creationism as a science in public classrooms was unconstitutional. But Arkansas lawmakers are not dissuaded. House Bill 1701 now awaits the Senate ruling.
State Representative Deborah Ferguson questioned the legality of the bill, saying, “It was decided by the Supreme Court in ‘87 that you could not teach creationism as a science...So why would we do this when the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that it is illegal to do that?”
Bentley replied that the Supreme Court changed its mind many times in the past. She believes they may rule differently this time.
Ferguson mentioned that the bill violates the First Amendment’s establishment clause and might pave the way for other religions wanting to teach their creation story as science.
Bentley asserted that school classrooms should be open for debate, including creation as a scientific theory.
“If it were to be taught as some sort of religious course or philosophy, that might be one thing, but to call it science is just incorrect. I believe this is something better for Sunday school, not public school,” said the senator.
A professor at the University of Arkansas, Rene Shroate-Lewis, a Christian, noted a difference between science and faith.
Shroat-Lewis argued, “This just really does not belong in a science class. If we think about the definition of science, science requires that you have evidence and also that you are able to test in order to be able to figure out that evidence. So unfortunately, we are not able to test whether or not there is a higher being of any sort.”
She noted that if the students are taught the creation theory in their earlier formative years, such as kindergarten, it may cause confusion. Shroat-Lewis added that these students wouldn’t develop a sound sense of scientific reasoning if religious faith is intermingled with science education.