FFRF warns: New W.Va. laws invite teachers to violate student rights

A display of skeletons, mostly animal, with one human skeleton on the far right. Other animals include a horse, goat, cat, various birds, and others.

Photo by Max Mishin

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has signed into law a bill aimed at inserting religion into public schools throughout the state, and another bill with a similar purpose is headed to the governor’s desk. The Freedom From Religion Foundation condemns these efforts and warns that they will lead to inappropriate religious promotion during schooltime.

The pending bill, SB 152, requires every public school and university to display the McCarthy-era national motto, “In God We Trust,” on the walls of every classroom. This is part of a coordinated nationwide effort known as Project Blitz, which aims to misrepresent America’s secular history, then roll back rights and enact Christian nationalist legislative priorities.

The new law, SB 280, is intended to allow public school teachers to discuss intelligent design with students. However, the bill’s language was watered down to avoid openly promoting religious education, and the final version says that teachers may discuss “scientific theories of how the universe and/or life came to exist.” Legally speaking, this new law changes nothing because intelligent design is not a scientific theory, and teachers have always been free to discuss cosmology and biogenesis in a scientific context.

However, the fact that the bill as introduced openly promoted religion — and was pushed alongside the “In God We Trust” bill for the same reason — may unfortunately be perceived by some teachers as a green light to preach about intelligent design and creationism. The bill’s lead sponsor, herself a public school teacher, reportedly thinks the new law does allow teaching intelligent design, apparently under the false belief that intelligent design is a scientific theory.

FFRF Senior Policy Counsel Ryan Jayne submitted testimony opposing these bills earlier this year, on behalf of the FFRF Action Fund (FFRF’s lobbying arm). As Jayne pointed out, the Supreme Court has struck down teaching “scientific creationism” in public schools, and intelligent design is simply another effort to smuggle creationism into science classrooms.

“Creationists often wrongly think that the ‘theory’ of evolution is just a guess,” comments Jayne. “This same mistake leads them to think that any guess is equally worthy of being called a ‘scientific theory.’ It’s an understandable mistake for a high school student to make, but unacceptable for a high school science teacher.”

FFRF will monitor the implementation of the new law, and will take appropriate steps to ensure that school officials respect the fundamental rights of students to a secular public education.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with 40,000 members across the country, including in West Virginia. Our purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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