Oklahoma legislators are inviting a lawsuit if they pass a bill requiring religious language in science textbooks, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has warned.
The Oklahoma State House unanimously passed a bill yesterday requiring the state's public schools to use science textbooks that acknowledge "one God as the creator of human life in the universe."
"This legislation is outrageous and unconstitutional," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "This is America, not Iran. Our legislators are not supposed to be judges of religious truth.
"The Constitution requires public schools to be neutral on religious matters," continued Lynn, an attorney and a minister. "Forcing science books to acknowledge 'God as the creator' is a far cry from neutrality."
Oklahoma entered the national evolution controversy in November when the state's Textbook Committee voted to add anti-evolution disclaimers to public school biology textbooks. Earlier this year, however, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson issued an opinion that the committee lacked the authority to alter texts with disclaimers of any kind.
In response to the controversy, members of the Oklahoma legislature introduced a bill creating specific qualifications for members of the textbook committee. Yesterday, the House added two amendments. One gives the committee the authority to insert "a one-page summary, opinion or disclaimer" into all textbooks; the other mandates that science textbooks acknowledge God as the creator of life.
"Religious Right groups and their allies have done everything possible to force their religious beliefs into public schools," added Lynn. "Now, in states like Oklahoma, they're targeting public school science classes with their schemes. We must not allow our science classes to turn into Sunday school classes."
At this point, the bill (SB 1139) will go to a conference committee where legislators will work out differences between the House version with the controversial amendments and the Senate version.
"The conference committee should have no question about what will happen if this bill becomes law," Lynn concluded. "Americans United will not hesitate to file suit, and I am confident that courts would strike down this patently unconstitutional effort."
Oklahoma joins a plethora of other states that have fought over the evolution issue in recent months, including state legislatures and boards of education in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, New Mexico and Ohio.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization represents 60,000 members and allied houses of worship in all 50 states.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.