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Florida's "academic freedom" bills

Table of contents
Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5

Part 4: Bamboo shoots and hitting the sauce

With drastically different House and Senate versions of what was once the same antievolution bill in the Florida state legislature, it remains uncertain whether antievolution forces will be able to devise a compromise bill to be sent to the governor before the legislature adjourns on May 2, 2008 -- especially with a host of other issues crowding the legislative calendar. At issue is Senate Bill 2692, which the Florida Senate passed and sent to the House on April 23, 2008. On April 28, 2008, the House pulled a switcheroo, substituting the language of its own, quite different and now tabled, bill, HB 1483, and sending the result back to the Senate.

During the full Senate's debate on SB 2692, the Orlando Sun-Sentinel (April 17, 2008) reported, two senators tested the commitment of the bill's proponents to "academic freedom" by proposing to extend the bill's coverage to sex education classes, arguing, "We're talking about academic freedom ... In an abstinence-only sex education program, a teacher may wish to answer a student's question and provide additional information that may protect a life or stop an unwanted pregnancy." Their amendment was vociferously denounced (with Storms saying, "I'm concerned about prematurely deflowering kindergartners and first and second graders," according to the Sun-Sentinel) and rejected on a voice vote.

The question of whether the bill would allow the teaching of creationism in Florida's public schools was also debated, but its sponsor was reticent to address the question, reportedly preferring instead merely to recite the text of the bill in response to questions. According to the Sun-Sentinel, "Storms repeatedly refused to answer questions on whether that could happen. Her only reply: teachers could discuss a 'full range of scientific views.'" Senate Democratic leader Steve Geller (D-District 31) complained in frustration, "We could have stuck bamboo shoots under her fingernails and she wouldn't have answered."

Storms was willing, however, to discuss the supposed need for the bill. The Miami Herald (April 18, 2008) reported, "Storms said her bill was designed to counteract the 'dogmatic' new state science standards requiring for the first time evolution to be taught and that 'people are afraid. Teachers are afraid. And students, by the way, are afraid.' Geller objected, noting her bill says the 'Legislature finds that in many instances' teachers and students have feared or been disciplined for teaching the full range of scientific information about evolution. When Geller asked her for names, Storms didn't have any but said six educators who planned to talk on the topic recently weren't given the time to address a recent Senate committee."

At the Florida Citizens for Science blog (April 17, 2008), Brandon Haught echoed Geller's skepticism, writing: "I definitely would love to know who these six unnamed teachers are. Even better, I want to know what they want to teach. This revealing question has yet to be asked or answered: What are some examples of critical analysis of evolution that have no religious connotations and are based on legitimate, up-to-date scientific ideas?" Such skepticism seems to be warranted in light of, for example, the "Critical Analysis of Evolution" model lesson plan in Ohio, which was challenged on account of its creationist distortions of science and ultimately rescinded.

Storms attempted to ease her bill's passage by substituting the heavily amended House version, HB 1483, for her own; as long as the two houses have different versions, the bill cannot be sent to the governor. The Senate rejected the amendment on a voice vote, and then approved the unamended bill on a vote of 21-17 on April 23, 2008. Steve Geller told the Associated Press (April 23, 2008), "In 2008, it is embarrassing for us to be debating evolution," and worried that "the legislation would scare off high-tech industries that depend on sound science from moving to or staying in Florida."

In the wake of the bill's passage, its opponents continued to express their concern about its true intent and effect. "I know that the bill doesn't even mention creationism but that's what it's about," Senator Arthenia Joyner (D-District 59) told the Tampa Tribune (April 24, 2008). Such concerns were not materially allayed by Senate majority leader Daniel Webster (R-District 9), who told the Orlando Sun-Sentinel (April 24, 2008) that the bill was intended to promote critical thinking and inspire questioning, but added, alluding to Psalm 19, "Maybe King David was right when he ... looked up and the heavens declared the glory of God."

The Tampa Tribune (April 24, 2008) added, "The version of the plan passed in the Senate Wednesday does not align with the bill being floated in the House. With the legislative session set to close May 2, lawmakers will have to work overtime to make the bills palatable to both chambers." And there were signs that the task would be difficult, given that the Senate rejected Storms's attempt to substitute HB 1483 for her own bill. The Sarasota Herald Tribune reported (April 24, 2008) that "Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, who voted for the evolution bill and spoke in favor of it, was ... blunt about the shrinking time frame. He said Hays 'must be hitting the sauce if he thinks he's going to send the bill back here.'"

[ Back to Part 3 / Forward to Part 5 ]
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