Legislator introduces bill to support committee decision on disclaimers

Friday, December 31st 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A state legislator has introduced a bill that would support a controversial decision by the Oklahoma State Textbook Committee to require a disclaimer on schoolbooks that deal with evolution. Rep. Jim Reese, R-Nardin, said Thursday that the textbook committee already had the legal authority to require a disclaimer, but his legislation would give additional backing to the panel.

House Bill 1876, filed Wednesday, says the textbook committee may adopt a book on a conditional basis if the committee determines that significant inaccuracies exist in content or information is no longer current. "The committee may specify the conditions which must be met for final adoption of the textbook," the bill states.

The textbook committee on Nov. 5 adopted a disclaimer to be placed in certain textbooks stating that evolution is a "controversial theory" and unproven when it comes to explaining the origins of life. The disclaimer adds that the textbook does not mention "many unanswered questions about the origin of life" and urges students to "study hard and keep an open mind." Reese said he wrote the legislation after talking with a textbook committee member but not at the request of any committee member. He declined to identify which member he spoke with.

Reese, a member of the state House Committee on Education, said he supports the textbook committee's action but believes that the committee is requiring an "addendum" rather than a disclaimer. "I don't see how keeping an open mind and studying hard is a bad thing to teach kids," he said. Reese's measure would give the committee additional legal protection against any group that may challenge its actions, he said.

Scientific and civil liberties groups and textbook publishers have panned the disclaimer, but no one has filed a lawsuit. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union are considering legal action. Textbook committee member Lynne Machado has asked the Attorney General's Office whether the committee has the authority to adopt a disclaimer.

Gerald Adams, a spokesman for Attorney General Drew Edmondson, said the office is hesitant to issue an opinion on a matter that is being considered by the Legislature, but he added that Reese's bill "should have no affect on our response or our ability to respond." Adams said Reese's bill would have no impact on action already taken by the panel.

Reese said the disclaimer gives textbook companies an "easy out" on the issue, explaining that the committee instead could have disapproved textbooks that dealt with evolution. The textbook companies "would be in a pickle then," he said. When asked for his own view on evolution, Reese said, "Well, I don't think my great-great-great-uncle was an ape."