Governors Advocate Teaching ‘intelligent Design’  in Public School Science Classes

The governors of Kentucky, Texas and Florida have recently advocated teaching “intelligent design” in public schools.

Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher first raised the issuing during a state-of-the-commonwealth address Jan. 9.

“What is wrong with teaching intelligent design in our schools?” he asked.

In a later interview with the Asso­ciated Press, Fletcher, who is identified as a “lay minister” on his website, called ID “the foundational principle of our nation.” He linked intelligent design to the Declaration of Independence, which mentions a “Creator” and said, “Our inalienable rights are based on the self-evident truth of those endowed inalienable rights. And all I was saying is that from my perspective, that’s not a matter of faith, and it’s not a matter of religion. It’s a matter of something called self-evident truth.”

Fletcher said he acknowledges that organisms change over time, telling the AP, “Personally, I think that we were designed to improve based on our environment. It seems like we do have the capacity for adaptation.”

Fletcher also said ID should be taught from an historical, not religious, perspective. Lisa Gross, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education, later told the AP that the state already has a law permitting the teaching of creationism. Gross did not point out that such a law could not be implemented. The Supreme Court struck down the teaching of creationism in public schools in 1987.

In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry endorsed intelligent design in a letter to a constituent. In a December missive that was released by the Texas Freedom Network, Perry wrote that it would be a “disservice to our children to teach them only one theory on the origin of our existence without recognizing other scientific theories worth consideration.”

Kathy Walt, a spokeswoman for the governor, later added that Perry “supports the teaching of the theory of intelligent design. Texas schools teach the theory of evolution. Intelligent design is a valid scientific theory, and he believes it should be taught as well.”

In a separate letter to a constituent in Austin, a staffer in Perry’s office seemed to go even farther. Dede Keith with Perry’s Office of Administration and Constituent Services, wrote, “Gov. Perry does not oppose presenting creationism alongside evolution in discussions about the origins of mankind.”

The issue of evolution has roiled Texas politics for several years. Recent efforts to inject creationism into state science standards were unsuccessful, and the matter is not scheduled to come up again until 2008.

In Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush took a more cautious approach, never mentioning intelligent design by name. Still, his comments were interpreted by ID advocates as hopeful.

In the wake of a federal court ruling against ID in Dover, Pa., Bush issued a five-paragraph statement calling for “vigorous discussion of varying viewpoints in our classrooms.”

Continued Bush, “I am a practicing Catholic, and my own personal belief is God created man and all life on earth. However, I do not believe an individual’s personal beliefs should be the basis for determining Florida’s Sunshine State Standards.”

Mathew Staver of the Religious Right legal group the Liberty Counsel found Bush’s words encouraging. “I think what Jeb Bush is stating, as I read his statement, is that he is open to having a robust debate on the issue of evolution take place in the classroom,” Staver told the Orlando Sentinel. “That’s all intelligent-design advocates are asking for.”

Russell Schweiss, a spokesman for the governor, insisted Bush had not meant to endorse ID. But a moment later he added, “They [teachers] should have the discretion to discuss other topics and also allow open discussions based upon questions students may ask.”