Meet your new “unbiased” textbook hearing officer: Florida creationists

KangarooCourtCreationists, climate change deniers and other antiscience nuts scored a major victory in the Florida legislature with the passage of the instructional materials bill. This bill, if the governor signs it, will kick wide open the door for ideological crusaders to pester their local school boards about banning or changing textbooks and other materials. For a full analysis of the bill, see our thorough blog post Creationist-enabling bill passes; what can you do now?

But nearly every day we’re learning more about the havoc these bills will cause across the state. PBS’s Frontline posted a detailed story today about antiscience bills around the country: A New Wave of Bills Takes Aim at Science in the Classroom. A large chunk of the story focuses on Florida, of course.

One particularly bad aspect of the bill is this requirement:

… for all petitions timely received, conduct at least one open public hearing before an unbiased and qualified hearing officer. The hearing officer may not be an employee or agent of the school district. The hearing is not subject to the provisions of chapter 120; however, the hearing must provide sufficient procedural protections to allow each petitioner an adequate and fair opportunity to be heard and present evidence to the hearing officer …

In the PBS story, we learn that the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, which is the group that wrote the bill and helped push it through the legislature, is standing by to serve.

Haught says he’s worried that financially strapped districts, reluctant to pay for a hearing officer, may cave to objections, regardless of their merits.

But Flaugh, of Florida Citizens Alliance, waved off the concern, saying members of his group would volunteer to be hearing officers.

Pick your jaw up off the floor. Flaugh and his Alliance wrote the bill and worked closely with its sponsors in the House and Senate. They know exactly what they were doing when they wrote it. The bill doesn’t give any details about how this “unbiased and qualified hearing officer” would be chosen. Clearly, that was on purpose. They want to be able to go to a school board with a complaint and then get themselves selected to be the hearing officers to judge the merits of their very own complaint. Ingenious.

But could this result in one of our greatest fears: creationism in the classroom? Of course, it could. From the story:

The group supported legislation that also passed Friday to protect students and educators who wish to express their religious beliefs in school from discrimination. If signed by the governor, Flaugh said his group will use it in conjunction with the instructional materials bill to contest textbooks that demonstrate “bias toward Islam and seldom mention Christianity,” and promote those that push for a Christian view of the origins of life.

“Darwin’s theory is a theory, and the biblical view is a theory, and our kids should be taught both in a balanced way,” he said.

Kara Gross, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said the bill will allow teachers, personnel and administrators to advance their religious beliefs in school. She said she expects the bill to be litigated on constitutional grounds.

That other bill about religious beliefs is the Religious Liberties Act that we here at Florida Citizens for Science opposed. (See our series of blog posts on this bill.) We were told at the time that the bill had nothing to do with science education and we shouldn’t worry about it. Wrong.

Do you care about science education? Join Florida Citizens for Science. Frankly, we don’t need people who just hit “like” on Facebook posts. That’s not how the Alliance folks got their bill passed. We need people who are ready and willing to DO SOMETHING. If that’s you, then join us and we’ll get something done together.

About Brandon Haught

Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science.
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2 Responses to Meet your new “unbiased” textbook hearing officer: Florida creationists

  1. Pierce R. Butler says:

    They know exactly what they were doing when they wrote it.

    You have to wonder how widely that statement applies to the Florida legislature’s work in general.

    This particular case reflects a higher level of planning and sophistication than we usually see in Tallahassee: whether that indicates something more behind the scenes, or just better reporting of details here than usually seen in state media, I dunno.

    However, Brandon Haught has done fine work in highlighting otherwise neglected particulars of legislation before now, so perhaps we the citizens should give our elected officials credit for more ingenuity in their skulduggery than we have previously.

    Likewise the Fla Citizens Alliance, of course.

  2. Ivorygirl says:

    I have contacted my local school board and offered my services as a “hearing officer” in the event of any science book arbitrations. I feel I’m more than qualified. Perhaps other qualified members of Florida Citizens for Science could do the same?

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