Utah's "controversial issues" bill dies

Arches National Park, Utah.

Arches National Park, Utah. Photo by SoloTravelGoals on Unsplash.

Utah's House Bill 441 — which, if enacted, might have had adverse consequences for science education in the Beehive State — died in committee on February 28, 2023, when a deadline for bills to pass committee in their house of origin passed.

Section 2 of the bill would have required local education agencies in the state to develop a neutrality policy, which would, inter alia, prohibit their employees from "advocating for or promoting controversial issues; ... asserting a personal belief as fact; or ... presenting facts in a biased manner."

The bill defined "controversial issue" as "a topic that is socially unresolved, generates highly divergent and contentious opinions, or is not age appropriate." While no specific issues were described in the bill as controversial, evolution and climate change — though not scientifically controversial — are often regarded as socially controversial.

Local education agencies would also have been required to "establish a process to evaluate whether the controversial issue is appropriate and in accordance with" the section of the Utah Code on state education standards. But there was no indication of what depends on whether the controversial issue is found to be appropriate and in accordance with the standards.

Sponsored by Mark A. Strong (R-District 47), the bill was introduced on February 13, 2023, and was assigned to the House Education Committee, where it was not considered before the deadline passed.

Glenn Branch
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Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.