Conservatives lose Texas evolution vote

By Jerry Pierce
Mar 26, 2009

AUSTIN, Texas—A closely watched effort to keep a 20-year-old requirement that Texas public high school students evaluate the “strengths and weaknesses” of scientific theories, including evolution, failed Thursday in a 7-7 vote by the State Board of Education.

In February, the board narrowly scuttled the strengths and weaknesses language when it voted on new science standards, but social conservatives had hoped to garner enough support to reinsert the language, with both sides lobbying the board and the public for support in the weeks before the meeting through e-mail and phone campaigns and newspaper op-ed articles.

Supporters of evolution had assailed the 20-year-old “strengths and weaknesses” clause as a back door to teaching biblical creationism, while evolution-only critics spoke of weaknesses in Darwinian theory.

The Texas school board decision has national ramifications because curriculum standards adopted in large states such as Texas and California influence content for textbooks nationwide.

With one board member absent, Thursday’s tally included seven Republicans voting for the clause, with the three remaining Republicans and four Democrats opposing it. Democrat Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi, who was absent, was on record opposing the strengths and weaknesses rule.

Blogging about the proceedings on Wednesday and Thursday, Jonathan Saenz, legislative affairs director for the conservative Free Market Foundation, noted that debate was already ongoing about the use of the words “analyze and evaluate” in the standards under consideration.

Those who testified Wednesday before the board included Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education and a vocal critic of the intelligent design movement, and Pierre Velasquez of San Antonio, a 31-year veteran science teacher who said preventing teachers from discussing strengths and weaknesses in scientific theories would stifle classroom discussion.

The Texas Republican Party entered the fray on March 7, adopting a resolution titled “Supporting Rigorous Educational Standards for Science in Texas” that opposed abandoning the strengths and weaknesses requirement.

Meanwhile, leading the opposition was the Texas Freedom Network, founded by Cecile Richards, national executive director Planned Parenthood and daughter of the late Texas Gov. Ann Richards. TFN, which bills itself as “a mainstream voice to counter the religious right,” has mounted a “Stand Up for Science” campaign that included a March rally at First United Methodist Church in Austin.

This article is reprinted with permission from Baptist Press. The author, Jerry Pierce, is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

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