Happy Darwin Day!

February 12th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

I’ll be in Winter Park today at the Central Florida Freethought Community’s Darwin Day event. When it’s my turn to take the mic at about 2:30, I’ll talk about whether evolution is being taught in schools, a brief history of anti-evolution efforts in Florida and then wrap up with a shameless plug for Florida Citizens for Science’s need for support as we defend against current and future anti-science attacks.

One of those potential attacks is the Religious Liberty bill filed in the senate and house. The Christian Post has taken note of the bill and our concerns:

Advocacy group Florida Citizens for Science, which pushed for state science standards that required the teaching of evolution, said the bills could spell trouble for science education in Florida’s public schools.

“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,” the group wrote on its blog.

And the house sponsor, Rep. Kimberly Daniels, has an interesting quote in another news story at WUSF:

She flatly rejects the notion of separation of church and state.

“How can a state fund and have chaplains in prisons and not have chaplains in schools? A child should not have to wait to go to prison to meet a chaplain. And I think that says it all.”

I hope to see you at today’s Darwin Day event and I look forward to a lively discussion!

cffc-dd

Kentucky gives insight into Florida religious liberties bills

February 11th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

adamevedinoThe Kentucky legislature is considering Religious Liberties bills that are remarkably similar to ones filed here in Florida. Here’s a link to the Kentucky bill and, for comparison, here is a link to the Florida bill.

Language from the Kentucky bill:

… a student shall be permitted to voluntarily:
Express religious or political viewpoints in classroom, homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination or penalty based on the religious or political content of the submissions

Language from the Florida bill:

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.

Why does this matter? Because in the news article Ky. Senator: Christians Are Ones ‘Being Persecuted’ In Schools, a bill sponsor had this to say:

Asked if the bill might provide legal grounds for students to challenge answers on tests – for example, a creationist student who disagrees with a science teacher about the age of the earth – Robinson said the student should be free to repeat what was learned in class while appending his or her opinion without fear of reprisal.

“What I would do if I was answering, I’d say, ‘Well, according to my beliefs it’s 6,000 [years old], but according to what you say it’s more,'” the lawmaker told WUKY. “You still answered a question and it would be retaliation if they were to say you’ve got to believe what I believe and you can’t believe what you believe.”

But Robinson adds, “A teacher, if they had respect, they would go ahead and respect and admire a student who thought for themselves.”

Hey! I want to play that game, too. Teacher: “Little Suzie, what is 2+2?” Suzie: “Well, according to my beliefs it’s 3, but according to what you say it’s more.”

Does that answer about basic math sound silly? It should, just like the answer about the age of the earth. It’s not a case of students thinking for themselves. It’s a case of students believing something demonstrably false.

Of course, that is a Kentucky lawmaker commenting on a Kentucky bill. But there are undeniable parallels to the Florida bills. The Kentucky senate approved their version of the bill and there is a good chance the house bill will cross the finish line, too.

What will happen in the Florida legislature? We’ll see once the session kicks off March 7. Both Florida bills have been assigned to review committees and both have picked up cosponsors, which are signs that these bills might have some life to them.

A Call to Action

Want to help Florida Citizens for Science stand up for sound science education in our home state? You can keep informed via this blog, Facebook and Twitter. But we sincerely need people willing to take on a more active role! We need people to monitor and take swift action when needed in Tallahassee by personally visiting lawmakers or making phone calls or networking with other like-minded organizations. The Religious Liberties bills might not be the only ones to potentially impact science education this legislative session. We’re also preparing for the science textbook adoption process that will kick off later this year. We’ll need vigilant citizens all across the state to help then! And when will the Florida Department of Education update the state science standards? We need eyes and ears looking out for that.

Contact any of our board members to learn more.

(Image from UnusualCards.)

“A solution in search of a problem”

February 5th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

Florida Citizens for Science needs your help! It’s going to be a busy year for us and we need all the vocal, passionate, action-oriented science advocates we can find to support our cause. Please read all the way to the end of this post and consider our call to action.

We continue to monitor the Religious Liberties bills filed in the Florida House and Senate (previous posts outlining Florida Citizens for Science’s concerns are in the Religious Liberties Act 2017 category). The bills in both chambers have been assigned to committees but the legislative session doesn’t kick off until March 7, so we might not see much else happen until then. It should be noted, though, that both bills are starting to pick up co-sponsors.

baxleyAnother tidbit to consider is this statement from an Ocala Star Banner story: Seeking Guidance.

The annual legislative session begins March 7. The House bill (HB 303) has been referred to the Judiciary Committee, the Education Committee and PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee for review. Baxley said the Senate president, who has expressed support for the bill (SB 436), has referred it to two committees.

Here are some other highlights from the story.

This law, Baxley said, would clarify what is allowed and ensure that school districts don’t directly or indirectly dampen individual rights in the name of avoiding controversy.

In short, he wants to “bring back some reason to the policy.”

Some people think the bill appears to be a solution in search of a problem. The First Amendment already protects people who work in or attend the public schools; why add a redundant state law to the books?

“We’re not aware of any particular cases or examples” of people associated with the public schools being denied their rights as referenced in the bill, said Kirk Bailey, political director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

If there are such cases, he said, “We would be as curious about it as they (bill proponents) are.”

There are no mentions of our concerns about the proposed bills’ impact on the science classroom in the Star Banner story. But the Orlando Sentinel did highlight them in this piece: Lawmakers file bill to protect “religious expression” in Florida schools.

Florida Citizens for Science — an advocacy group that pushed for state science standards that required the teaching of evolution –said the bills could spell trouble for science education in Florida’s public schools.

“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,” the group wrote on its blog.

The science group, active in Florida’s loud debate about evolution in the 2007-08 school year, said it views Baxley’s sponsorship as particularly worrisome, given the former head of the Christian Coalition of Florida has previously pushed against the teaching evolution.

A Call to Action

Want to help Florida Citizens for Science stand up for sound science education in our home state? You can keep informed via this blog, Facebook and Twitter. But we sincerely need people willing to take on a more active role! We need people to monitor and take swift action when needed in Tallahassee by personally visiting lawmakers or making phone calls or networking with other like-minded organizations. The Religious Liberties bills might not be the only ones to potentially impact science education this legislative session. We’re also preparing for the science textbook adoption process that will kick off later this year. We’ll need vigilant citizens all across the state to help then! And when will the Florida Department of Education update the state science standards? We need eyes and ears looking out for that.

Contact any of our board members to learn more.

We need to be wary. The circus is coming to town.

February 2nd, 2017 by Brandon Haught

circusLast month we had intelligent design promoter Paul Nelson bumbling around in Florida promoting a documentary. Now another famous intelligent design guru, Michael Behe, is barnstorming Florida to show off a new documentary that’s all about him. He’ll be at the University of Central Florida tonight. Then he’ll move on to Clearwater and the University of South Florida Friday followed by Clearwater on Saturday. He’s tentatively scheduled to wrap up at Florida Gulf Coast University Monday. Interestingly, his presentation at a Naples church is meant for high school students only.

The reason I point out these visits is because I spent years researching the ebb and flow of anti-evolution efforts in Florida. Any time creationists come knocking, their visits are followed by a flurry of creationist shenanigans involving textbooks, or some local school board, or the state legislature. The back to back visits by Nelson and Behe make me wary. Something is up.

March for Science, Florida

January 30th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

There is a March for Science movement spreading across the country and the world. The main March for Science website says:

science march 2March for Science is a grassroots effort comprised of dozens of independent, nonpartisan coordinators. Recent rhetoric has inspired us to march on Washington D.C. and in Satellite Marches across the country. Our mission statement is as follows:

THE MARCH FOR SCIENCE CHAMPIONS PUBLICLY FUNDED AND PUBLICLY COMMUNICATED SCIENCE AS A PILLAR OF HUMAN FREEDOM AND PROSPERITY. WE UNITE AS A DIVERSE, NONPARTISAN GROUP TO CALL FOR SCIENCE THAT UPHOLDS THE COMMON GOOD, AND FOR POLITICAL LEADERS AND POLICYMAKERS TO ENACT EVIDENCE-BASED POLICIES IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST.

It looks like the effort is still in its planning stages and yet it has sparked a lot of interest. There are at least six satellite marches forming here in Florida that I know of so far. If you want to participate and help in some way, check out the below list. And let me know if you know of any that need to be added.

Main March for Science being organized in Washington D.C.:
Twitter: @ScienceMarchDC
Webstie: https://www.marchforscience.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/marchforscience

science march 3The main Florida March for Science account:
Twitter: @ScienceMarchFL

Tallahassee:
Twitter: @ScienceMarchTLH
Volunteer Inquires to:
sciencemarchtally@gmail.com

St. Petersburg/Tampa:
Twitter: @March4SciStPete
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MarchForScienceStPete/

University of Florida:
Twitter: @March4ScienceUF

Orlando:
Twitter: @ScienceMarchORL
Inquiries? Email: sciencemarchorlando[at]gmail[dot]com

Miami:
Twitter: @MiamiMarchforSc
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/March-For-Science-Miami-1756461831341881

Baxley comments on school Religious Liberties bill

January 24th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

Here’s the first public comment Sen. Dennis Baxley has made concerning the “Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act” he and Rep. Kim Daniels filed in their respective chambers: Florida Senate to consider public school ‘religious liberties’ bill

The bill would allow religious clothing and jewelry. It would also allow “religious expression” in coursework, and also allow for prayer groups and “religious gatherings” that could be organized at any time a commensurate (and undefined) secular activity is permitted, including during the school day.

When we pointed out that the broad definition of “religious expression” left an opening for an anti-American strain of Islam, Baxley noted that “religious liberty does run that risk factor.”

To that end, Baxley said that “more safeguards” may be needed. These would be worked out in the committee and amendment process, he suggested.

The potential pitfalls, Baxley suggested, are outweighed by the benefits, such as “free religious speech” and “expression of faith.”

“The bill leads [us] in a good direction,” Baxley said, though clearly there is room for refinement.

Previous posts here about this issue can be found under the Religious Liberties Act 2017 category.

Baxley and the Religious Liberties Act

January 23rd, 2017 by Brandon Haught

I told you about the “Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act” (House Bill 303) filed in the Florida house and my concerns with it. Today, a companion bill was filed in the senate: Senate Bill 436. It’s a duplicate of the house bill.

I’ve seen troublesome bills in past years that were only filed in one chamber but not the other. Those bills always faded away, usually without even getting a hearing in any committees. But seeing that the current bill has versions filed in both chambers heightens my concern. That increases the chances of it at least making it out of the starting gate, so to speak.

baxleyAnother thing to worry about is who filed the senate bill: Dennis Baxley. He was a representative in the state house back in 2005 when he sponsored an infamous bill titled The Academic Freedom Bill of Rights. That bill would have prevented “biased indoctrination” by “the classroom dictator.” In defense of that bill he related an upsetting personal story of a Florida State University professor ranting against creationism in class. You can read more about that bill in chapter 8 of Going Ape: Florida’s Battles over Evolution in the Classroom. (Please excuse the shameless self promotion … but I think the fact that Baxley is back in action is a good reason to get up to speed on his history, don’t you think?)

In 2008 we here at Florida Citizens for Science were deeply involved in the brawl over the inclusion of evolution in the new state science standards. Baxley was then executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida and he had a firm opinion about the issue:

“There is no justification for singling out evolution for special skepticism or critical analysis,” wrote Richard T. O’Grady, executive director of the American Institute of Biological Sciences in a Feb. 8 letter to the Board of Education. “Its strength as a scientific theory matches that of the theory of gravitation, atomic theory and the germ theory.”

The response from Dennis Baxley, executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida: “He’s in error.”

“At one time, the scientific community thought that for good health, you should attach leaches to your body,” said Baxley, a former state representative from Ocala. “We’re just asking them to leave the door open a little bit” for other evidence to be considered.

Stay tuned …

Trouble for science education found in Florida House Bill 303

January 20th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

House Bill 303, filed Thursday (1/19) by Rep. Kimberly Daniels, has the potential for serious trouble. The “Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act” has two troublesome sections that could impact science education.

The bill is broad, with the purpose of protecting/allowing students and others in the school system free religious expression without fear of discrimination. On the surface, that’s a noble desire. But there are booby traps littering the five-page bill that could blow up in many places, including the science classroom.

The first cause for alarm comes early in the bill:

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

open-your-text-books-2That single 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. And that sentence actually is alone. The bulk of the bill addresses students’ religious expression while just this one sentence mentions rights for school personnel. There are no further details or explanation to go with that single statement, leaving it wide open to interpretation and abuse.

The other cause for alarm can be found here:

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.

On the one hand, 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. We need to keep an eye on it for the next few months.

danielsIt’s also worth noting that the bill sponsor runs Kimberly Daniels Ministries International and affiliated organizations. A quick Internet search doesn’t turn up any statements about evolution or creationism by Daniels. But she certainly has a colorful history:

Daniels has gained as much attention for her work on the [Jacksonville City] council as her background as an ex-prostitute and a minister who performs exorcisms. Her sermons — some have been criticized as offensive against Jews and homosexuals — can be heard on local television and seen on the internet. She was also featured on a television show in 2012, where she is shown speaking in “tongues” and wildly performing exorcisms at her Jacksonville church.