After the controversy surrounding Arizona’s S.B. 1070 immigration law and recent legislation banning abortion after 20 weeks of gestation, I’ve grown accustomed to controversial legislation from my home state. This month, the Arizona legislature is proposing a trio of laws that were declared unconstitutional decades ago.
The first “patriotic” bill, H.R. 2467, would require high school students to recite an oath of loyalty to the United States—actually only a slight variation on elected officials’ oath of office—before being allowed to graduate from a public high school. The second, H.R. 2284, would require students in grades 1 through 12 to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at a specific time each day, exempt only at the request of a parent.
ACLU Arizona’s public policy director Anjali Abraham was quick to dismiss these bills: “Both bills are clearly unconstitutional, ironically enough…You can’t require students to attend school … and then require them to either pledge allegiance to the flag or swear this loyalty oath in order to graduate. It’s a violation of the First Amendment.” Even so, the sponsors of both bills stand by their assertion that the bills will benefit children by helping them think more about the Constitution and their patriotic duty. (In all fairness, if a child’s school is sued for First Amendment violations, that could be true.)
A third bill, SB 1213, purports to encourage the development of “critical thinking skills” by requiring that educators teach multiple sides of “scientific controversies” such as the origins of life and global warming. Translation: Teachers can and should teach creationism and other religious theories as on par with evolution and scientific research. Although the bill takes pains not to endorse any specific religious doctrine over another, it also makes it more difficult for administrators to prevent teachers from doing so.
This assault on science teaching is an established trend in the Right. Back in 2005, a U.S. District Court ruled against a school board policy in Pennsylvania that required the teaching of intelligent design in science classes. Last year, legislators in Tennessee passed a similar bill “to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies,” and four other states—Colorado, Missouri, Montana, and Oklahoma—are considering “academic freedom” bills undermining science curricula this year.
Maneuvers like these have been part of the “wedge strategy” from the Discovery Institute, a right-wing think tank with the mission “to see intelligent design theory as an accepted alternative in the sciences and scientific research.” Among their short-term objectives: to “rectify” several states’ science curricula to include intelligent design theory while trying to sidestep the First Amendment. They receive help from conservative lawmakers who continue to propose these bills for the political capital with the right-wing base, despite federal court rulings knocking them down.
While it might seem that they do not matter because the courts will strike them down, fighting these unconstitutional bills costs time and money. Furthermore, conservative-funded organizations like the American Center for Law and Justice, brought in as legal defense, look vigilantly for weak spots that would allow the entrenchment of their “alternative” teaching in the school system.