Senate bills require conception video and ‘In God We Trust,’ allow creation theories in classrooms

Senators advanced a bill to mandate viewing a specific video in classrooms about conception, passed a bill allowing classroom discussions of theories of the universe’s origins that could include a guiding hand and also passed a bill mandating display in classrooms of donated signs displaying the motto “In God We Trust.”

Mandatory conception video

Senate Bill 468 would require a course in public schools on human development.

More specifically, a section of the bill called the “Baby Olivia Act” would require public school viewings of “Meet Baby Olivia,” by Live Action, a nonprofit organization that has been involved with national abortion politics.

Members of the Senate Education Committee discussed and advanced the bill during a Tuesday morning meeting. To become law, the bill would still need a vote of the full Senate and then consideration by the House of Delegates.

An introduced version of the bill would have required curriculum on human development in grades three, five and eight. A version that was substituted in for the committee changed that to eighth grade curriculum with a refresher in the 10th grade.

The original version also gave cause of action to the state Attorney General to sue for damages and injunctive relief against anyone violating the potential requirements. That section was removed from the newer version of the bill that the committee advanced.

The Senate Education Committee attempted to watch the video but initially had some technical problems. Eventually, members were able to see the video, which begins with an image of a fetus called Olivia and then goes on to show sperm fertilizing an egg. “This is the moment that life begins.” After that, the video shows weeks of development.

Senator Mike Azinger, R-Wood, commented on the moment of conception. “It’s a scientific fact that the second of conception there’s a flash of light, always, every time. Thank you.”

Charles Trump

Senator Charles Trump, R-Morgan, asked how commonly state code requires a specific brand or product to be used.

“Are there other examples of where the Legislature by statute has put code the producer of the curriculum for the subjects that we want children to study or be exposed to?” asked Trump, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“This appears to be unique in that it’s dictating the provider of the curriculum for the subject.”

Amy Nichole Grady

Senate Education Chairwoman Amy Nichole Grady, R-Mason, responded that state guidelines call for cardiopulmonary respiration instruction specifically by the American Heart Association or American Red Cross. “That’s very similarly stated that any CPR instruction you do has to be provided by those two,” Grady said.

Grady added that the video is a free product. “It’s available through the Google machine.”

Intelligent Design

The Senate passed a bill, 31-2, that would allow classroom discussions of scientific theories of how the world began.

Senate Bill 280 just says this:

“No public school board, school superintendent, or school principal shall prohibit a public school classroom teacher from discussing or answering questions from students about scientific theories of how the universe and/or life came to exist.”

Lawmakers who support the bill have referred to educators who are concerned that they would get in trouble over such classroom discussions, although no specific cases or instances have been cited.

Although the bill makes no direct reference to it, discussion of the bill has often focused on Intelligent Design, which is a theory that the universe is so complex that an intelligent higher power must have given it structure.

High school students who advocated for the bill in committee said that is religiously neutral and could refer to the Christian concept of God or, equally, to the possibility of a “flying spaghetti monster.”

Scientific consensus is that life evolved. Critics of Intelligent Design contend the concept eludes scientific testing or proof.

Mike Woelfel

In debate on the floor, Senate Minority Leader Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, noted that the bill does not define scientific theory. He suggested its language is vague and unlikely to hold up if it’s tested in court. And he cited earlier court rulings against the teaching of Intelligent Design.

“Intelligent Design has been struck down as impermissible to be taught in public schools because the creator, the prime being, God, supernatural creationism is outside the realm of established, recognized science,” he said. “Intelligent design, now that we’ve learned that it’s permitted to be taught under the bill, is going to render the bill unconstitutional.”

Grady said the bill is not specifically about Intelligent Design.

“The bill is about encouraging our students to think, encouraging our students to ask questions, encouraging our teachers to be able to answer them,” said Grady, who is a fourth grade teacher in Mason County.

“This says if a student asks you a question about a theory they’ve read about or they’ve heard about — maybe it’s not a popular theory, but it’s a theory — you can discuss it; you can say something about it. Right now they don’t feel comfortable doing that.”

In God We Trust

The Senate also passed a bill requiring the display of signs or posters of the motto “In God We Trust” in classrooms.

Senate Bill 152 would require public schools or higher learning institutions to display “in a conspicuous place” in each classroom a durable poster or framed copy of the motto “In God We Trust.”

Similar laws have been passed in states like Louisiana and Texas. 

The West Virginia bill calls for the signs to be donated or purchased from private donations.

Mike Caputo

Senator Mike Caputo, D-Marion, asked how many classrooms that would mean. “That’s gotta be thousands,” he said.

There was no immediate answer to the number of classrooms involved, although Grady referred to an earlier discussion of feasibility. She said the donations would mitigate the cost.

“In God We Trust. A lot of times that’s determined as a religious statement, but it’s not,” Grady said. “It has been challenged in court on several occasions, and it’s always come across that it’s constitutional. It’s printed on the back of every coin.”

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