Antievolution legislation in New Mexico

House Bill 302, introduced in the New Mexico House of Representatives on February 1, 2011, and referred to the House Education Committee, is the fifth antievolution bill to be introduced in a state legislature in 2011. If enacted, the bill would require teachers to be allowed to inform students "about relevant scientific information regarding either the scientific strengths or scientific weaknesses" pertaining to "controversial" scientific topics; the bill would protect teachers from "reassignment, termination, discipline or other discrimination for doing so." The sole sponsor of HB 302 is Thomas A. Anderson (R-District 29).

Describing the bill as "a train wreck waiting to happen," Dave Thomas, the president of New Mexicans for Science and Reason, a group that promotes science and science education in the state, told NCSE, "The proposed legislation is not needed by New Mexico's students or teachers. New Mexico's existing standards already protect students from religious indoctrination or harassment by their teachers. Furthermore, the bill is unconstitutional as written, and its passage and enactment will almost certainly result in expensive litigation."

HB 302 is similar to Senate Bill 433 from the 2009 legislative session. The most salient difference is that where SB 433 was limited to "biological evolution" and "chemical evolution," HB 302 is ostensibly about "controversial" scientific topics in general — of which the only examples offered are "biological origins, biological evolution, causes of climate change, [and] human cloning." The sponsor of SB 433, however, told the Santa Fe New Mexican (March 3, 2009) that he conceived of his bill as covering "biological evolution, human cloning, global warming, you name a dozen different things."

A further difference is in the definition of the scientific information that teachers would be allowed to present to their students about "controversial" scientific topics. Both bills make a point of excluding information derived from religious "writings, beliefs or doctrines," but where SB 433 provided, "'scientific information' may have religious or philosophical implications," HB 302 provides, "'[s]cientific information' may include information that coincides or harmonizes with religious tenets" — which would appear to be intended to cover "intelligent design" creationism.

According to a summary analysis (PDF), various state agencies were not enthusiastic about SB 433, worrying that the bill would allow the teaching of creationism, inviting litigation; observing that the state science standards already require students to understand the evidential basis for evolution; and questioning the bill's premises "that the theory of evolution lacks scientific validity ... and that teachers and students need protection when addressing 'relevant scientific strengths or scientific weakness pertaining to biological evolution or chemical evolution.'" SB 433 died in committee in March 2009.