Education, Government, Latest News, West Virginia Legislature

Senate Education Committee OKs intelligent design, U.S. motto bills

MORGANTOWN — The Senate Education Committee on Tuesday approved bills allowing the teaching of intelligent design in schools, and requiring the display of the national motto in schools and colleges if certain conditions are met.

SB 280, the intelligent design (ID) bill, is a retooled version of last year’s bill that passed the Senate 27-, and then died in House Education.

The original version of SB 280 matched last year’s bill, allowing the teaching of intelligent design. The committee substitute says no public school board, superintendent or principal can prohibit a teacher from discussing or answering questions about scientific theories about how the universe or life came to exist.

Two Hurricane High School juniors, Hayden Hodge and Hunter Bernard, promoted the bill to the panel.

Hodge, who also addressed the senators last year, said the idea came to him from a science teacher who wished he could discuss ID as an option but feared repercussions.

Hodge reminded them that ID is “agnostic, meaning it only proposes some kind of consciousness behind the design of the universe; it’s not biblical creationism; it doesn’t posit any attributes of the consciousness or promote any religious precepts. It doesn’t even challenge the theory of evolution, only evolution’s precept that the formation of the universe was blind and undirected.

“It could be God, or it could be a flying spaghetti monster,” he said.

All logical reasons and explanations should be allowed to be presented in schools, he said. The bill promoted “education justice” by respecting free speech rights and religious liberty, and by not discriminating against the rights or beliefs of people round the country.

Bernard said, “We believe in liberty.” That means the liberty to hear the options and decide for themselves what’s true about the origin of life and the universe. It prevents an Orwellian system of authoritarian censorship and allowing for only one approved view.

Sen. Mark Maynard wondered if the phrase “scientific theories” in the bill was too restrictive and could exclude discussion of creationism, which has a more religious basis. Hodge said they prefer the phrase because the goal is to permit the discussion of ID, not religion at this point.

Committee chair and bill lead sponsor Amy Grady, R-Mason, said, “We are constantly pushing for inclusion and inclusiveness in our schools.” This bill doesn’t exclude anyone.

Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said he voted against last year’s bill, but this version addressed his concerns and he was able to support it.

The bill passed in a voice vote with no audible votes against. It goes next to the full Senate.

Motto bill

SB 152 requires a public elementary or secondary school or higher education institution to display in a conspicuous space in each classroom a poster or framed copy of the national motto — In God We Trust — if the poster or framed copy has been donated, or purchased with private funds and made available to the school. The poster or copy must also bear images of the U.S. and state flags under the motto. It may contain no other words or information.

Asked about the requirement aspect, committee counsel said if nothing is donated or privately purchased and provided to the school, nothing is required to be displayed.

A version of this bill passed the Senate unanimously last year and cleared House Education but died in Judiciary.

Lead sponsor Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, said this originated in Congress and about 100 federal buildings have such displays. About a dozen or so states have also passed this legislation.

“I think our kids need something to unify around, to know that God can be mentioned in the classroom,” he said. It helps kids understand the foundations of the country.

It also passed unanimously in a voice vote and goes to the full Senate.

Enrollment bill

SB 253 sets the floor enrollment for a county’s schools at 1,200 for the school aid formula.

Lead sponsor Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, said the bill is aimed at the small counties of Wirt, Gilmer and Calhoun, which have low enrollment but the same kind of fixed costs — such as transportation and heating — as the larger counties.

“This would at least give them the ability to cover a lot of those fixed costs,” he said.

It passed in a unanimous voice vote and goes to Finance.


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