Once again, state legislatures have been turned into battlegrounds by lawmakers who seem intent on slipping religion into the science classroom.

As in years past, most of these bills simply seek to protect teachers who introduce spurious criticisms of evolution into their lesson plans. But South Dakota has the distinction of attempting to specifically protect the teaching of intelligent design, something that has already been determined to be unconstitutional following a bruising court defeat.

As tracked by the National Center for Science Education, four states are considering a total of five bills; Missouri has the honor of having two bills going at once, while Virginia and Oklahoma have one.

The Virginia bill is fairly typical of these. It would prevent local school boards and administrations from punishing teachers who help students “analyze, critique, and review” scientific theories in their classrooms.

In the past, these bills have singled out evolution as a topic that’s meant to be critiqued—one Missouri bill still does—but lately that’s often been dropped in favor of generic language like “scientific controversies” (see, for example, the Oklahoma bill). Based on the evolutionary history of these bills, it’s clear that they were originally intended to encourage teachers who wished to introduce spurious criticisms of evolution, many of which have been published by the creationist and intelligent design movements. However, in an attempt to avoid legal scrutiny, the bills’ authors have been turning to increasingly generic language.     

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