Mississippi Bill Targets Biology Books

January 10, 2009

Last week the Mississippi state legislature took up an anti-evolution bill that would require the State Board of Education to place disclaimer stickers in every textbook that discusses evolution.    House Bill No. 25 , introduced by state representative Gary Chism, sets forth a lengthy required disclaimer that states, in part: "This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory some scientists present as a scientific explanation for the origin of living things.  No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life’s origins should be considered a theory." The disclaimer asserts the "sudden appearance of the major groups of animals in the fossil record" and an alleged "lack of transitional forms" in that record.  The disclaimer ends with an exhortation to "Study hard and keep an open mind."

Mississippi’s proposed disclaimer bears similarities to the disclaimer stickers introduced by the Cobb County, Georgia school district in 2002.  (This was a mild improvement on the district’s earlier policy of simply tearing out the offending pages that discuss evolution.)  After several parents sued,   a federal district judge ruled that the stickers violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.  Although the ideologically conservative 11th Circuit Court of Appeals   vacated that judgment and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings, the school district ultimately   settled the case in favor of the plaintiffs

The Mississippi bill demonstrates that three years after the conclusion of the   Dover, PA intelligent design trial , creationists’ efforts to impede scientific learning continue unabated.  My guess is that we can expect more anti-evolution bills as state legislatures reconvene.  Defenders of science and secularism should remain vigilant.