|Skeleton of Columbian mammoth, Mammuthus columbi|
George C. Page Museum, La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles, California
A couple of examples reared their ugly little head in South Carolina recently.
The first one all started with a proposal by 8 year-old Olivia McConnell that the state adopt the Columbian mammoth as the official state fossil (no! seriously!). All well and good, you might think, and a nice little gesture to an 8 year-old, a nice acknowledgement of the Columbian mammoths claim to fame as the first vertebrate fossil to be found in North America, and just a bit of fun that no-one could object to.
But, in the USA, the mention of fossils triggers a knee-jerk response by the creationist lobby desperate to make sure people don't get the right idea about evolution, and elevates whatever it is to the point of high principle, complete with bible-waving, threats of hellfire and hysterical shrieking about religious freedoms. Step forward the loon's champion, Rep. Robert L. Ridgeway, III to strike a blow for Jesus and the Bible and, hopefully completely unnoticed, against the secular US Constitution.
Ridgeway proposes amendment 1-1-712A to the effect that, instead of simply being referred to in official documents as 'The Columbian Mammoth' must always be referred to as "'Columbian Mammoth', which was created on the Sixth Day with the other beasts of the field.".
A BILLTO AMEND ARTICLE 9, CHAPTER 1, TITLE 1 OF THE 1976 CODE, RELATING TO STATE EMBLEMS, BY ADDING SECTION 1-1-712A, SO AS TO DESIGNATE THE COLUMBIAN MAMMOTH AS THE OFFICIAL STATE FOSSIL.
Amend Title To Conform
Whereas, giant mammoths used to roam South Carolina; and
Whereas, scientists have identified the fossils of about six hundred and fifty species of vertebrates in South Carolina to date; and
Whereas, it has been recognized that fossilized mammoth teeth were discovered in a swamp in South Carolina in 1725; and
Whereas, this discovery has been credited as the first scientific identification of a North American vertebrate fossil. Now, therefore,
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of South Carolina:
SECTION 1. Article 9, Chapter 1, Title 1 of the 1976 Code is amended by adding:
"Section 1-1-712A. The Columbian Mammoth, which was created on the Sixth Day with the other beasts of the field, is designated as the official State Fossil of South Carolina and must be officially referred to as the 'Columbian Mammoth', which was created on the Sixth Day with the other beasts of the field."
SECTION 2. Subsequent to this act's effective date there is a moratorium on the enactment of legislation establishing official state symbols and emblems until such time as the General Assembly directly by legislative enactment removes this moratorium.
SECTION 3. This act takes effect upon approval by the Governor.
After due consideration by the Judiciary Committee, who had no objections, the amendment was carried without dissent by the House. Patriotic South Carolinians might like to consider the fact that not a single elected Representative saw any problem with every official reference to the State Fossil containing a piece of blatant propaganda, paid for by the South Carolinian taxpayers, for a religious view despite the Establishment Clause in the US Constitution. And nor did the Judiciary Committee! However, at least a majority of the Senate defended the Constitution and refused to concur by a vote of 72:30 and knocked it back to the House. The future of Ridgways' amendment now rests with a joint House-Senate committee on which the pro-loon House has a majority.
We wait with baited breath on the outcome of this important point of principle for those who want to ensure people get a misleading view of evolutionary biology and the history of Earth, even if it means breaking the law.
Meanwhile the loons are mounting a vigorous campaign to ensure the children in South Carolina's public schools are not taught the truth about evolution. The battle has crystallised around Section B-5.1 in the Biology curiculum for Fourth Grade students in the state's new draft science-teaching standards. It has the temerity to mention evolution and in particular natural selection and its key role in understanding biological diversity. This was guaranteed to send the loons into a mouth-frothed frenzy, so introduction of the curriculum has had to be delayed while while right to deny knowledge to children is debated.
If they succeed it should ensure that any South Carolina children who want to go on to a higher education in any biology-related subject will be educationally substandard and bound to struggle. Given the power of the fundamentalist loon lobby in South Carolina who consider the sacrifice of their children's future as something worth fighting for and just what Jesus would want, it's anyone's guess whether the ultra-patriotic, flag-draped Christian right are going to get away with another little subversion of the despised US Constitution.