West Virginia's "intelligent design" bill sparks national outcry

West Virginia State Capitol.

West Virginia's Senate Bill 619 — which would, if enacted, allow "[t]eachers in public schools, including public charter schools, that include any one or more of grades Kindergarten through 12, [to] teach intelligent design as a theory of how the universe and/or humanity came to exist" — is now sparking a national outcry.

In a February 28, 2023, letter, Americans United for Separation of Church and State explained (PDF) to the chair of the House Education Committee that teaching "intelligent design" in the public schools "is a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution." After reviewing the case law, the letter added, "Passing this bill will only harm West Virginia’s students, parents, and teachers by dragging them into a 'legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources'" — the quoted phrase is from the decision in Kitzmiller v. Dover.

In a March 1, 2023, letter, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers warned (PDF) the House Education Committee that "SB 619 will allow, and possibly encourage, some teachers and administrators to deviate from the science curriculum and introduce information that will confuse students. By allowing deviation from science curriculum regarding ideas as foundational to science as evolution, this bill threatens to make West Virginia’s students unprepared for college coursework and for careers that depend upon solid understandings of science."

And in a March 2, 2023, commentary posted on the ACLU's website, Heather L. Weaver of the ACLU's Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief listed what she called "the appalling long-term costs" of passing the bill: "the rights of families and faith communities, not government officials, to instill religious beliefs in their children; the educational and employment success of students; the solvency of public schools already struggling financially; and the economic and job prospects for the entire state of West Virginia."

Senate Bill 619 passed the Senate on a 27 to 6 vote on February 25, 2023, as NCSE previously reported, and is now with the House Education Committee, where it is expected to receive a hearing. The West Virginia legislature is scheduled to adjourn sine die at midnight of March 11, 2023.

Glenn Branch
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Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of NCSE.