A bill to allow Christian beliefs to be taught in Arkansas classrooms easily passed the state House Wednesday. House Bill 1701 now heads to the Senate side for a vote.
The bill will allow kindergarten through 12th grade teachers to teach students about the Christian theory of creationism, which claims that a divine being conjured the universe and all things in it in six days. The bill specifies that creationism can be taught not only in religion and philosophy classes, but “as a theory of how the Earth came to exist.”
As with so many pieces of legislation churning out of the Arkansas Capitol this session, if HB 1701 passes, a quick court challenge on this blatant mixing of church and state is all but inevitable. The United States Supreme Court already considered this issue in 1987 and ruled in no uncertain terms that teaching creationism in public school classrooms is unconstitutional. But blatant unconstitutionality hasn’t dissuaded Arkansas lawmakers so far this session. One Senate bill that passed recently, for example, declared all federal gun laws null and void within our state’s borders, in clear opposition to the Supremacy Clause that says federal laws take precedence over state laws.
Rep. Mary Bentley (R-Perryville), sponsor of House Bill 1701 “TO ALLOW CREATIONISM AS A THEORY OF HOW THE EARTH CAME TO EXIST TO BE TAUGHT IN KINDERGARTEN THROUGH GRADE TWELVE CLASSES IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS AND OPEN–ENROLLMENT PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOLS,” said she put forth the bill at the request of science teachers in her district.
“There are phenomena in our nature that evolution cannot explain,” Bentley said. She emphasized that science teachers may teach creationism under this bill, but they don’t have to.
“Why would we do this when the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that it’s illegal to do that,” asked Rep. Deborah Ferguson (D-West Memphis). Ferguson pointed out that Arkansas has been down this road before in 1982 when state lawmakers tried to force creationism into the state’s curriculum. U.S. District Judge William Overton put a stop to it with his ruling in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education.
Bentley told Ferguson she believes the Supreme Court might rule differently this time.
The creationism in schools bill passed the House with a vote split strictly along party lines, with 72 yeahs from Republicans, 21 nays from Democrats, and seven not voting.