DENVER (AP) - Democrats rejected a Republican lawmaker's idea Monday urging schools and colleges to create a friendly environment to discuss what he considers controversial science issues, a move that opponents feared would lead to debates about creationism and evolution.
The proposal called on public schools and colleges to create an environment for students to encourage scientific questioning on "controversial issues in science education." Rep. Stephen Humphrey, R-Severance, said he recognized the concerns from opponents that the bill would open debate on religious teachings, but he insisted that's not what his proposal would do.
"It's not something that could be used for someone to open up their scriptures and start teaching their version of how the world started," he said. "Only scientific information."
The Democratic-led House Education committee rejected the bill on a 7-6 vote.
The bill stated that teachers should allow debates that "respectfully explore scientific questions and learn about scientific evidence related to biological and chemical evolution, global warming and human cloning."
If the bill had passed, schools and colleges would be told of the law annually beginning with the 2013-14 school year. The bill would have urged schools to support discussions relating to evolution, global warming and other topics. But schools and colleges would not have been monitored for enforcement and there would be no penalties.
Denver Democrat Lois Court said she didn't see what the bill sought to accomplish.
"The point is that requiring science teachers to encourage creative, critical thinking and ask questions from all angles - it's what science teachers do. So why do we need this?" Court said.
The Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education, an organization for environmental educators, opposed the bill.
"This bill has the potential to kind of muddy the waters in terms of science education," said Katie Navin, executive director of the group.
Humphrey said his goal was to open up scientific debate. He said that sometimes students may feel afraid about speaking their minds in class about controversial matters.
"I've heard students tell me, and I've had the experience myself in the classroom," he said. "You know that the professor has a strong viewpoint one way or the other, and you might feel a little intimidated about discussing something or bringing up a point."
The bill originated from the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, a proponent of intelligent design.
"What this bill would do is not take evolution out of schools, or put evolution in, but actually increase the teaching of evolution and get people to really inquire about it and learn as much as possible," said Joshua Youngkin, program officer for public policy and legal affairs for the group.
Montana lawmakers are also considering similar legislation this year. A bill there would protect "alternative viewpoints" during science class debates. Lawmakers have not voted on the bill yet.