Evolution Debate in Florida (5/2/08)
A group of scientists, including Nobel laureate Harold Kroto, urged Florida lawmakers to reject the “Academic 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)
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)
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
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
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
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)
Center for Science Education
Contributed by Ashlee Dere, 2004 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern and Amanda
Schneck, 2005 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern..
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Last updated on May 2, 2008.