The Oklahoma Science Education Act: v.7.0

First Amendment, Intellectual Freedom News, Legislation

By: Frederic Murray

Once again the corruption of language and thought is manifesting itself in the Oklahoma State Legislature.

NEXRAD Dome at Norman, Oklahoma at Dusk. Photograph. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016. Oklahoma Science Education Act, Senate Bill 393 , is appropriating First Amendment rights to promote religiously motivated, anti-science material into Oklahoma science classes. In seeking to allow the personal views of teachers on “scientific controversies” into the classroom, it argues that the intellectual freedom of teachers, and their First Amendment rights, will be strengthened. It implicitly believes that teachers are unduly restricted by having to adhere to state standards reflecting scientific consensus and analysis.

This bill has nothing to do with First Amendment rights or intellectual freedom. It is ideological and anti-science. In other words, climate is weather, evolution is theory, the world is flat, and teachers in public Oklahoman classrooms should have the right to say as much.

This current battle in 2017 for the integrity of the classroom isn’t new for Oklahoma or the nation, but this particular bill feels like a retread. The author of Senate Bill 393 is state Sen. Josh Brecheen, District 6. Sen. Brecheen has authored similar bills (six in fact) since 2011. This is his seventh attempt. Every spring there is a legislative attempt to commandeer the classroom: Senate Bills 554 (2011), 1742 (2012), 758 (2013), 1765 (2014), 655 (2015), and 1322 (2016) all died in committee.  Senate Bill 393  met with the approval of the Senate Education Committee on February 27, and passed the Senate by a vote of 34-10 on March 22, 2017.

Sen. Brecheen has a degree in animal science from Oklahoma State University. At some point, one would hope, he studied biology, genetics and botany.  Where his animus toward the rigor of scientific inquiry comes from is a mystery. Oklahoma’s primary industries are in energy and agriculture, both heavily dependent in the 21st century on the methodologies of science. We need our students in the K-12 public schools to have the same opportunity to excel as students elsewhere. It isn’t fair to our teachers or our public schools to have to deal with the ideological posturing of anti-science legislation every year.  And to couch such legislation as a First Amendment issue is as insulting as it is pointless.

Since 1999, Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE), a non-profit educational organization, has been promoting the methods and values of science and advocating for excellence in science curriculum for our public schools in the Sooner State. OESE came together because in 1999, the Oklahoma State Textbook Committee attempted to have creationist textbook disclaimers inserted into any textbook used in public schools that discussed evolution.

The attempt failed and this group of dedicated educators has been on the front line of every battle against anti-science legislation in Oklahoma for 18 years.  Their analysis of SB 393 points out:

Sen. Brecheen’s own words make his anti-science intentions abundantly clear. In 2010 he stated in the press (that he would), “introduce a bill to place creationism into public schools”; and later, “I have introduced legislation requiring every publicly funded Oklahoma school to teach the debate of creation vs. evolution using the known science, even that which conflicts with Darwin’s religion.” He has indeed introduced such anti-science bills every year since 2011.

On March 6, 2017, the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) sent a letter to the Oklahoma state Senate care of Mike Schulz, president pro tempore, and Greg Treat, the majority floor leader, to rebut the First Amendment arguments being advanced to support the legislation.

It was ignored. And now SB 393 is moving forward.

In 2014 when Sen. Brecheen introduced SB 1765 (v. 4.0), the American Institute of Biological Sciences described the bill as “bad for science and bad for science education,” and the National Association of Biology Teachers warned that it “could easily permit non-science based discussions of ‘strengths and weaknesses.'”  It will now pass to the House Common Education Committee. Oklahoma needs its educational allies to contact Governor Mary Fallin via email or telephone (405-521-2342) and tell her to reject Senate Bill 393  should it land on her desk.

It is a great irony that Oklahoma is home to the South Central Climate Science Center, “a regional partnership of researchers, land managers, and tribes working collaboratively to develop science that addresses climate impacts on natural and human communities.” Oklahoma has good universities, and good K-12 schools scattered throughout the state. It has dedicated teachers and curious students.

SB 393 has nothing to do with intellectual freedom or First Amendment rights. It has little to do with education. SB 393 needs to be stopped.


Frederic MurrayFrederic Murray is the head of Instructional Services at the Al Harris Library, Southwestern Oklahoma State University. He is a tenured faculty member and as an academic librarian has initiated the growth and expansion of information literacy classes across the campus curriculum. He has presented at state, national and international conferences in the areas of library pedagogy, digital textbooks, and the development of curriculum for Native American Studies. He serves as the managing editor for Administrative Issues Journal, a peer-reviewed, open access journal in its sixth year of publication. He believes deeply in the value of books and the inherent strength found in the human voice. Among his favorite authors are Lenny Bruce, Jimmy Santiago Baca and Carson McCullers. He can be reached at


  • Why does this bother you so much? You seem threatened by the possibility of allowing people to discuss the possibility that a creator made everything, possibly using evolution as a means to do so. That by merely introducing the idea that there is a creator is going to destroy all science. Why? The law of gravity is still in place and the periodic table of elements will still be there. Also, the “Theory of Evolution” is still just a theory. It hasn’t passed the scientific tests to become a law like gravity. Are you afraid the theory of evolution will not hold up unless we teach it exclusively?

  • Devin obviously does not know much about science. A scientific theory is not what the word means in everyday parlance, but is a collection of facts that been proved over and over. Look it up. In fact evolution has more facts in support than the scientific theory of gravity. Evolution can not address the supernatural as in all of science. Thus, the subject of a creator is not germane in science.
    Indeed, the majority of mainstream faiths find no conflict with evolution (Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, United Methodists, etc., etc.). For a list see list on National Center fr Science Education website ( ).

  • Mr. Smith, I thought I was pretty clear about why SB 393 is bad legislation: In public schools science needs to be taught in science classrooms. This bill will dilute curricular standards, putting our students at a disadvantage.

    As for what constitutes “theory” Mr. Hutchison does an excellent job providing a response.


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