The Oklahoma State Textbook Committee lacks the authority to require publishers of biology books to post an evolution disclaimer in public school texts, the state attorney general has ruled.
Furthermore, Attorney General Drew Edmondson declared that the committee willfully violated Oklahoma's open meeting law when it took the action on Nov. 5 and published an agenda that misled the public. The vote requiring disclaimers should be considered invalid, Edmondson wrote.
Edmondson issued the opinion at the request of state Sen. Penny Williams, a Tulsa Democrat. Williams told the Tulsa World she believes the textbook committee lacked the authority to require disclaimers and wanted to find out if the attorney general's office agreed.
"It seemed to me the authority [of the committee] was to reject, and they have the right to do that, reject anything they want," Williams said. "I was certainly curious to see if they had the authority to go beyond rejecting or approving. I didn't think they did, but I didn't know. I'm not a lawyer."
The Religious Right-dominated textbook committee created a firestorm of controversy last November when it voted to require biology textbook publishers to include a disclaimer casting doubt on evolution in all biology books proposed for use in the state. The disclaimer, modeled on one used in Alabama, was widely seen as an effort to undercut evolution and advance religious fundamentalism.
Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, a Roman Catholic who supports the use of the disclaimer, conceded that the committee had overstepped its authority, although he called the members "well-intentioned." But State Education Superintendent Sandy Garrett drew a different conclusion, telling the World that the committee had no business trying to influence the content of textbooks.
"It will give them a clear direction about their authority" Garrett said. "Our main goal is to get science books in the hands of students in a timely fashion. This was going to hold it up."
The situation is far from resolved, however. Members of the committee refused to talk to the media, and it is unclear if they will follow the attorney general's opinion. The committee failed to get a quorum for its December meeting, and as of February still had not issued instructions to publishers about where to post the disclaimers.
In other news about evolution/creationism:
* A West Virginia legislator has introduced a bill that would require public schools to teach creationism alongside evolution. …