Will lawmaker's religious amendments derail Columbian mammoth?

Greenville NewsApril 1, 2014 

US PARKS SERVICE

The Columbian mammoth survived an ice age, but whether it can survive the South Carolina Senate as the state’s official fossil remains to be seen.

The elephant-sized mammal that once roamed this part of the world faces a new challenge this week in making it into the book of official state symbols.

And the dream of an 8-year-old girl who suggested that the Legislature adopt a state fossil hangs in the balance.

Last week, state Sen. Kevin Bryant tried unsuccessfully to insert a Bible verse into the bill. This week, the Anderson Republican is putting forward a new amendment that refers to the animal “as created on the sixth day with the beasts of the field.”

“I think it’s an appropriate time to acknowledge the creator,” he told The Greenville News.

His original amendment quoted from the King James version of the book of Genesis: “And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

“And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.”

It was tossed out because it introduced “new and independent matter.”

Bryant said he thinks his latest amendment will pass muster as a logical extension of the bill because, “Since we’re dealing with the fossil of the woolly mammoth then this amendment would deal with the beginning of the woolly mammoth.”

The original version of the bill referred to the woolly mammoth, but it was later changed to honor the Columbian mammoth.

“The courts have upheld using Old Testament scripture because it doesn’t point to a single religion,” he said. “If I used text from the New Testament, if somebody challenged it in court you might lose on those grounds.”

But he said he would support the bill regardless of the fate of his amendment.

Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, had raised an objection last week that temporarily killed the bill after Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell ruled Bryant’s amendment out of order. But Fair said he withdrew his objection after another senator told him the story of the Lake City girl’s campaign to get an official state fossil approved.

The girl suggested the mammoth because fossilized mammoth teeth had been discovered in a swamp in the state in 1725. South Carolina is one of nine states that don’t have a state fossil, according to State Symbols USA, a nonprofit organization.

Fair said he was willing to support the bill with or without Bryant’s amendment.

He said he placed his objection on the bill only to leverage senators to remove objections they had placed on some of his bills, which were unrelated to the state symbols issue.

“I’ll vote for the bill standalone, and I appreciate the young girl,” Fair said. “And maybe through the whole matter paleontology will get a little bit more emphasis and maybe people will do some more reading.”

Fair has made news before for his view that evolution shouldn’t be taught as scientific fact in public schools. He supports his position in part by what advocates of the intelligent design concept say about the fossil record.

Regardless of how the state fossil controversy turns out, a larger issue over state science standards in public schools remains to be fought, and Fair serves on the state Education Oversight Committee, the panel of educators and lawmakers that will decide it.

The committee has approved new science standards including all of the section on evolution, except on the issue of natural selection, which Fair argues should be taught as theory rather than as scientific fact. He argues that natural selection can make biological changes within species but that it can’t explain the whole progression from microbes to humans.

“This whole subject should be taught as a pro and con,” he said.

Rick Hahnenberg, a spokesman for the local chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he’s concerned that Fair’s action on the state fossil issue is “just a continuation” of his push for religion to be inserted into the science curriculum.

“Obviously we want to have good science standards in South Carolina,” he said.

The issue is on the agenda for the EOC’s April 28 meeting.

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