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Opponents of South Dakota Academic Freedom Bill Turn Their Campaign into an Anti-Religious Crusade

Casey Luskin

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The local media in South Dakota have been claiming that the current academic freedom bill in the state would allow teaching religion in public schools. That’s false, as I’ve already made clear. Meanwhile, aside from a local South Dakota political journal, reporters have completely ignored a related story that has the merit of actually being true.

Look at this photo taken under the rotunda of the South Dakota State Capitol. It shows a group of protestors*** demonstrating against the academic freedom bill. Note the words on the banner. The protesters are promoting an anti-religious message, “Don’t believe in God? Join the club!” They’re also promoting the website for their group, the South Dakota Coalition of Reason, which represents “Atheists, Agnostics, Humanists, & Skeptics.”

So between supporters and opponents of the bill, who is motivated by religion, and who is not? Who advocates for a particular view on religion, and who does not? Who is using this bill as an occasion to proselytize, and who is not?

It’s not proponents of the bill. The bill itself expressly says that it does NOT protect “discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs”:

This section only protects the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion.

Under the proposed law, neither religion nor atheism may be advocated or denigrated. The bill would protect the teaching of science, and nothing else. It is thus fully consistent with the requirements of the First Amendment, which (as understood by the Supreme Court) excludes both traditional religion and atheism (which we might call “non-theistic religion” for legal purposes) from government endorsement or interference.

Perhaps the protesters don’t agree with those First Amendment principles that stand against state advocacy or inhibition of religion, because they are protesting this religiously neutral bill while promoting a non-neutral, anti-religious message.

Of course, these atheists, agnostics, humanist, skeptics, or whatever they want to call themselves have every right as private citizens to gather in the South Dakota Capitol, express their personal anti-religious views, and protest the bill. But don’t miss the irony. The media in the state say the bill promotes religion — even as they ignore the fact that its opponents are on an expressly anti-religious crusade.

What about this bill, and the controversy around it, will the mainstream media in South Dakota censor next?

*** Update: I’m now told that the South Dakota Coalition of Reason was also there at the South Dakota Capitol lobbying about bills pertaining to a number of other different issues.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.

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academic freedom billsatheismLaw and CourtsNationSouth Dakota