Evolution disclaimer bill passed in OK House

On February 24, House Bill 2194 was passed by the Oklahoma state House by a vote of 96-0. As originally introduced on February 2, HB 2194 required textbook publishers to furnish the State Textbook Committee with electronic files for the production of Braille versions of textbooks in conformance with U.S. Department of Education standards. On February 23, the bill was amended to include a new section that requires all textbooks that discuss evolution to include a long disclaimer. The State Textbook Committee is given the responsibility of determining which textbooks should include the disclaimer, and "[i]f the disclaimer is not printed in the textbook by the publisher, the State Textbook Committee shall be responsible for ensuring that the disclaimer is inserted into any textbook authorized for use in public schools of Oklahoma."

The proposed disclaimer describes evolution as "a controversial theory which some scientists present as scientific explanation for the origin of living things" and "the unproven belief that random, undirected forces produced a world of living things." It also states that "No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life's origins should be reconsidered as theory, not fact." The disclaimer then proceeds to list examples of "major unanswered questions about the origin of life which are not mentioned in your textbook," including the Cambrian Explosion, lack of transitional forms, and the origin of the complex instructions for building all living things. The disclaimer concludes, "Study hard and keep an open mind. Someday you may contribute to the theories of how living things appeared on earth."

The text of the disclaimer is essentially identical to that of a disclaimer previously proposed and nearly adopted in Oklahoma in 2001 and 2003. Brown University biologist Kenneth R. Miller analyzed the disclaimer proposed in Oklahoma in 2001; his analysis is available on-line at the NCSE web site. The previously proposed Oklahoma disclaimers were in turn based on the disclaimer in use in Alabama from 1996 to 2001; it was significantly modified in 2001. Oxford University zoologist Richard Dawkins criticized the Alabama disclaimer; his analysis is also available on-line.

Bill Graves (R-Oklahoma City), who proposed the disclaimer amendment to HB 2194, was quoted by reporter Sean Murphy in the Claremore Daily Progress as objecting to textbooks that portray evolution as a scientific fact. "I think it's very important for children to know ... If they just believe that they came from some slime in a swamp that’s a whole lot different from being created in the image of God."

HB2194 also includes language first proposed in Senate Bill 894 on February 2, which allows school districts to purchase textbooks not on the approved list of the State Textbook Committee. SB 894, if enacted, would allow only 20% of state funds given to districts to be used for alternative textbooks, but in HB 2194 the 20% restriction is not present.