Buttars drafts bill on origins teaching
A West Jordan Republican who long has promised to push a bill requiring that intelligent design be taught in Utah schools along with evolution has finally made public a draft of his measure, but it makes no mention of the controversial concept.
Instead, Sen. Chris Buttars' draft bill released Friday requires Utah schools to "avoid the perception that all scientists agree on any one theory, or that the state endorses one theory over another," when it comes to the origins of life.
The measure comes just days after a federal judge in Pennsylvania declared the teaching of intelligent design in Dover Area School District unconstitutional, but Buttars said the ruling had no bearing on his bill.
The longtime proponent of intelligent design said he never intended for his measure to require that intelligent design be taught. Rather, he believes teachers shouldn't be allowed to teach evolution as fact when it isn't, he said.
If teachers are required to teach that scientists don't agree how life originated, then it could lead students to wonder and ask what the other theories - including intelligent design - are. Buttars believes that would be a good thing.
Educators, however, fear the requirement could lead to discussions about religion in public schools, which the Utah Board of Education wants to avoid.
Last summer, the board unanimously endorsed a position statement supporting the continued exclusive teaching of evolution in Utah classrooms. Carol Lear, an attorney for the Utah Office of Education, said the Legislature should not dictate what is taught.
"The bill almost says what should come out of the mouths of teachers . . . it's absurd," she said. "I think this is a thinly veiled attempt to make the state board do what the board has unanimously said it does not want to do."
Proposing legislation that deals with curriculum is something Buttars can do, he said.
"The state Board of Education is not sovereign. There is only one sovereign and that is the state," he said.
Lear warns that while the bill doesn't directly mandate the teaching of intelligent design, Buttars' past statements could be used against him if the bill became law and were challenged in court.
"He has been very clear he likes creationism theories and intelligent design theories. Just because now this bill is sanitized doesn't take it out of the arena of constitutional challenges," Lear said.
Rep. Margaret Dayton, R.-Orem, chairwoman of the House Education Standing Committee, said the bill is uncharted territory for Utah, but she does think what is taught in schools should not be left up solely to state or federal guidelines.
"There should be local control . . . and parents should be able to have some say and involvement in curriculum in various communities," she said.
Evolution of a debate
* June: Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, backed by conservative lobbyists, first says he intends to introduce legislation to require Utah public schools to teach intelligent design along with evolution.
* Aug. 25: Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. says Utah schools are "secular institutions" and adds: "I would expect my kids in science class to be instructed in those things that are somewhat quantifiable and based on thorough and rigorous empirical research."
* Sept. 2: The Utah Board of Education unanimously endorses a position statement supporting the continued exclusive teaching of evolution in Utah classrooms.
* Tuesday: Buttars reiterates his intention to sponsor a bill calling for intelligent design to be taught in schools.
* Friday: Buttars makes public a draft bill that asks the state to require teachers to tell students that not all scientists agree on one theory of how life began.