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Evolution Debate in Florida (5/2/08)

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Recent Action

A group of scientists, including Nobel laureate Harold Kroto, urged Florida lawmakers to reject theAcademic Freedom Act,” a bill that could allow teachers to discuss religious beliefs in the science classroom, at event in Tallahassee.  But on April 23, the Florida state Senate passed the measure by a vote of 21-17. Proponents of the legislation say it is about preserving first amendment rights for teachers, but opponents stand firm that it is just a backdoor to the teaching of creationism in the science classroom. The legislation was filed in response to the state Board of Education’s decision to include evolution in the revised science standards.  The Florida House is scheduled to take up a more stringent version of the bill next month that will require teachers to present creationism as an alternative to evolution in the science classroom.(5/2/08)

Previous Action


Florida lawmakers introduced the “Academic Freedom Act” (SB2692/HB 1483) in response to the state Board of Education’s decision to include evolution in the revised science standards. The measure would allow students to provide religious views in answers to science class activities. The legislation closely resembles a model bill proposed by the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, the institutional home of "intelligent design" creationism.  The legislators will be considering the bills during their 60-day work period. (03/08)

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The Florida Board of Education approved the overhaul of their science education standards this month after the program had previously received a failing grade by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, in part because Florida's standards did not include the teaching of evolution.  While the new standards were approved and now include the term evolution, a last minute modification requires the use of “scientific theory" and "law of" before evolution, gravity, atoms, and other terms. 

The modification passed by a vote of 4-3 and drew criticism from many including Board member Roberto Martinez, who voted against the measure and stated that the move was "an effort by people who are opposed to evolution, to water down our standards." The originally revamped science standards were written by a statewide group of scientists and educators, and vetted at five public hearings prior to the Board’s vote. (2-07-08)

For more information on Florida’s K-12 science standards visit http://www.fldoe.org/news/2008/2008_02_19.asp 

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On May 6, 2005, Dennis Baxley's (R-Ocala) House Bill 837 died during a legislative session in the Florida House of Representatives. The bill was a version of conservative activist David Horowitz's 'Academic Bill of Rights,' which aims to foster a variety of political and religious beliefs in institutions of higher education. Before the House session adjourned, it was doubtful that the controversial bill was going to pass. However, Baxley was satisfied that his bill sparked a debate on evolution vs. intelligent design teachings in Florida classrooms. Should the bill have passed, a statewide standard would have been implemented wherein students could not be punished for professing beliefs that their professors disagree with. Also, the bill would have given legal standing to students who think their beliefs are not being respected, permitting them to sue professors and universities. (6/2/05)



In the Florida House of Representatives, the Committee on Choice and Innovation voted along party lines (8 Republicans approved while 2 Democrats strenuously disapproved) to advance the Student and Faculty Academic Freedom in Postsecondary Education bill (HB-837) out of their committee (see http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/). The bill grants a list of rights to students and faculty that would have to be prominently posted in all postsecondary institutes of learning. Two of the rights granted to students include:

(1) The right to be graded solely on the basis of their reasoned answers and appropriate knowledge of the subjects they study and that they will not be discriminated against on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.
(2) The right to expect that their academic freedom and the quality of their education will not be infringed upon by instructors who persistently introduce controversial matter into the classroom or coursework that has no relation to the subject of study and serves no legitimate pedagogical purpose.

The bill, which must be approved by two more committees before it goes to the full House for a vote, ensures that university students cannot be punished for stating beliefs that disagree with their professors. It may allow students to sue a professor and the university if students think that they are being singled out for ridicule because of their beliefs. While supporting the passage of the bill, Representative Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) said that a university education should be more than "one biased view by the professor, who as a dictator controls the classroom," as part of "a misuse of their platform to indoctrinate the next generation with their own views." Later, Rep. Baxley cited the following example of a case where a student might sue, "Some professors say, 'Evolution is a fact. I don't want to hear about Intelligent Design (a creationist theory), and if you don't like it there's the door.'"

Rep. Dan Gelber, (D-Miami Beach), countered that many lawsuits could be filed by students with a wide-ranging variety of beliefs, such as students who do not believe that the Holocaust occurred or that men landed on the Moon. "This is a horrible step," he said. "Universities will have to hire lawyers so our curricula can be decided by judges in court rooms. Professors might have to pay court costs - even if they win - from their own pockets. This is not an innocent piece of legislation." (4/5/05)

Sources: National Center for Science Education

Contributed by Ashlee Dere, 2004 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern and Amanda Schneck, 2005 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern..

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Last updated on May 2, 2008.