Creationism bill narrowly defeated in Arkansas

Arkansas statehouse

Arkansas's House Bill 1701 (PDF), sponsored by Mary Bentley (R-District 73), was narrowly defeated, on a 3-3 vote, in the Senate Education Committee on April 21, 2021. If enacted, the bill would have allowed teachers in the state's public and open-enrollment charter schools to "teach creationism as a theory of how the earth came to exist."

House Bill 1701 passed the House of Representatives on a 72-21 vote on April 7, 2021, after passing the House Education Committee on a voice vote on April 6, 2021, as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (April 8, 2021) reported. Megan Godfrey (D-District 89) and Deborah Ferguson (D-District 51) were quoted as expressing opposition to the bill.

On the floor of the House, Ferguson reminded Bentley that the federal courts — including in McLean v. Arkansas (1982) — have repeatedly held that teaching creationism in the public schools is unconstitutional. In response, Bentley expressed the hope that, with changes in the Supreme Court, her bill might ultimately survive constitutional scrutiny.

House Bill 1701 was not Bentley's first outing with creationism. She previously introduced House Bill 2050, which would have allowed "public schools to teach creationism and intelligent design as theories alongside the theory of evolution," in 2017. She never provided the full text of the earlier bill, and it died when the legislature adjourned.

"Arkansas just dodged a bullet," NCSE's Executive Director Ann Reid commented. "The passage of House Bill 1701 would have not only put the scientific literacy of Arkansas's students in jeopardy but also subjected the state to national derision, as its precursor Act 590 did in 1981, and provoked a needless trial with a foregone conclusion."

Glenn Branch
Short Bio

Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.