Montana's antiscience bill heard in committee

Glacier National Park.

Montana's Glacier National Park. Photo by Jerad Hill on Unsplash.

Montana's Senate Bill 235, which would cripple science education in the state by excluding anything but "scientific fact" from curriculum and instruction, received a hearing in the Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee on February 6, 2023.

The bill's main sponsor, Daniel Emrich (R-District 11), a new member of the Senate, "said that he didn't think the bill would prohibit the teaching of scientific theories, which are the basis of explaining science," according to the Missoulian (February 6, 2023). But that was not the impression of anyone testifying for or against the bill.

The only person to testify for the bill, a law professor working in South Korea, understood it to prohibit the teaching of evolution, the Big Bang, and related topics, as NBC Montana (February 6, 2023) reported; he also described these topics as fraudulent and aimed at impeaching the veracity of the Holy Bible. Emrich did not distance himself from these views.

Among the bill's opponents were students, teachers, and representatives of the Blackfeet Tribe, School Administrators for Montana, Coalition of Advocates for Montana Public Schools, the Board of Public Education, North East Rural Schools, the Montana Federation of Public Employees, Montana Conservation Voters, and Montana Audubon.

Rob Jensen, a retired Montana science teacher, told the committee that the bill was "the most extreme anti-science legislation I've ever seen in this country," making the 1925 trial of John Scopes for violating a Tennessee ban on teaching human evolution "look like a period of [e]nlightenment," according to the Daily Montanan (February 6, 2023).

The bill was roundly criticized not only for its prospective effect on Montana science education but also for its apparent conflict with the state constitution, which vests supervision of schools in the Board of Public Education and in local school districts. A legal analysis attached to the bill on February 6, 2023, expresses (PDF) the same concern.

In his closing remarks before the committee, Emrich dismissed some of the concerns raised about his bill but acknowledged others, suggesting that he might amend his bill accordingly. The committee did not vote on the bill.

Glenn Branch
Short Bio

Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.