Several states are considering enacting laws to allow classrooms to teach alternate viewpoints that go against widely-accepted scientific facts on matters such as evolution and climate change.
The South Dakota Senate voted in favor of a bill that allows all teachers to question widely accepted scientific theories taught in the curriculum, reports The Hill. Meanwhile, legislators in Oklahoma and Indiana are debating passing similar measures to protect instructors who speak out against school board-approved science lessons.
Unlike previous bills, these do not specifically mention religious alternatives to evolution, such as intelligent design, but they do say that teachers may address "strengths and weaknesses" of the curriculum. Proponents of the measures say that they will encourage educators to remain "objective" and "scientific," rather than imposing their religious views on students.
"Good science is based on critical inquiry, not unthinking dogmatism," said John West, vice president of the Discovery Institute, an intelligent design organization, according to The Hill. "If we want to equip today's students to be tomorrow's innovators, we need to teach them how to be out of the box thinkers who know how to sift and analyze competing explanations in light of the evidence."
However, opponents of the bills say that they are the same as the approximately 70 earlier ones that have been introduced in state legislatures, most of which have not held up in court. The only difference, critics say, is that these are carefully worded to bypass legal troubles.
"It makes the bills very hard to challenge on the basis that they're unconstitutional, because they're not requiring anyone to do anything," said the National Center for Science Education's Deputy Director, Glenn Branch, who added that legislators are "no longer trying to ban teaching evolution" but are instead trying to "belittle" it.
Others question whether bills like South Dakota's SB 55 would open the door for teachers with extremist views to share them with children, notes The Argus Leader.
"Let's say I believe in eugenics," said South Dakota high school science teacher Deb Wolf, according to the Leader. "[SB 55] says that I couldn't be prohibited, I couldn't be stopped from teaching that as long as I did it in an objective scientific manner, and it doesn't specify what that means."
If each of the three bills become law, the states will join Louisiana and Tennessee, both of which have passed measures enabling teachers to question evolution theory.