Update: Religious Liberties bill

baxleyA bad bill filed in the Florida Senate by Sen. Dennis Baxley that could potentially affect science education has taken its first step forward. SB 436, entitled the Religious Liberties bill, is scheduled to be considered by the education committee on March 6 at 1:30 p.m.

Many bills are filed in the legislature that then die on the vine without even getting a hearing before a committee. The Religious Liberties bill’s move onto a committee calendar is a bad sign.

Two main areas of concern we at Florida Citizens for Science have with this bill and its House counterpart, HB 303, are the following:

A school district may not discriminate against a student, parent, or school personnel on the basis of a religious viewpoint or religious expression.

A student may express his or her religious beliefs in coursework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination. A student’s homework and classroom assignments shall be evaluated, regardless of their religious content, based on expected academic standards relating to the course curriculum and requirements. A student may not be penalized or rewarded based on the religious content of his or her work if the coursework, artwork, or other written or oral assignments require a student’s viewpoint to be expressed.

I’ll repeat here what we noted earlier: The first quoted sentence can kick open the door for creationists and even climate change deniers in instructional positions to freely express their anti-science views in the classroom.

On the one hand, concerning the paragraph addressing student work, anti-science views expressed by students can be tempered with the “expected academic standards” requirement. And keeping assignments fact based can eliminate anti-science “student’s viewpoint” issues. On the other hand, there is too much wiggle room in there that could allow students or their parents to make trouble for teachers teaching reality-based science. Even though teachers can use academic standards to defend themselves, this paragraph in the bill can still have a chilling effect on teachers who want to avoid conflicts.

This bill is not strictly an anti-science or creationist one, but it certainly can be used for those purposes if signed into law as is. There is also the very real and dangerous possibility of the bill being amended and otherwise modified during the legislative session to include creationist and deceptively called “academic freedom” language.

Please take a moment to read our related posts in the Religious Liberties Act 2017 category. Then please take the time to contact the members of the Senate education committee to express your concerns.

About Brandon Haught

Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science.
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