Science covers West Virginia's former "intelligent design" bill with NCSE's aid

West Virginia State Capitol.

The journal Science covered (March 18, 2024) the passage of West Virginia's Senate Bill 280, which originally sought to protect the teaching of "intelligent design" and is still claimed by its sponsor to do so — and NCSE was represented.

As passed, the bill provides that "[n]o public school board, school superintendent, or school principal may prohibit a public school classroom teacher from discussing or answering questions from students about scientific theories of how the universe and/or life came to exist."

"'It seems innocuous,' says Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education," Science reported. "But [sponsor Amy] Grady [R-District 4] said during floor debate that it would allow for discussion of intelligent design."

As originally introduced, Senate Bill 280 provided that "[t]eachers in public schools, including public charter schools, that include any one or more of grades kindergarten through 12, may teach intelligent design as a theory of how the universe and/or humanity came to exist."

If the bill is enacted, West Virginia would join Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee in having what Nick Matzke, a former NCSE staffer, writing in Science in 2016, described as "stealth creationism" bills on the books.

Kenneth R. Miller of Brown University, president of NCSE's board of directors, added that the absence of a definition of "scientific theories" from the bill "creates a lot of uncertainty and opens the door to potential litigation," such as in Kitzmiller v. Dover in 2005.

Mike Woelfel (D-District 5), a legislator who opposed the bill, told Science that he expected the measure to be challenged as unconstitutional, remarking, "it's fairly obvious to me that this bill runs afoul of the [E]stablishment [C]lause."

Having already passed the Senate on a 31-2 vote on January 23, 2024, and the House of Representatives on a 89-9-2 vote on March 9, 2024, Senate Bill 280 is now on the desk of Governor Jim Justice.

Glenn Branch
Short Bio

Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.