Archive for the 'Religious Liberties Act 2017' Category

Dear Unbiased and Qualified Hearing Officer …

Friday, July 7th, 2017

Florida’s horrible new Instructional Materials and Religious Liberties in Schools laws are continuing to garner all sorts of news coverage. The latest pieces are great takes on the laws by popular columnists.

First we have Fred Grimm’s thoughts in the Miami Herald, New education law allows anti-science mob to go after evolution and climate change:

Check the calendar: 2017, the year Florida relegated evolution to a tenuous supposition.

Some 92 years after a substitute high school teacher named John T. Snopes stood trial for exposing students to Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection, Florida intends to force local school boards to re-litigate the old conflict between religious fundamentalism and modern science.

Last month, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that will allow any county resident to challenge public school teaching materials they personally find unsuitable, inappropriate or pornographic. The law requires school boards to hire hearing officers to deal with complaints.

The Palm Beach Posts’s Frank Cerabino clearly had fun when he wrote what he imagines could be citizen complaint letters to the hearing officers, Florida’s evolution to complainer’s paradise for public schools:

Dear Unbiased and Qualified Hearing Officer:

So my cousin’s nephew’s best friend’s daughter tells me there’s nothing about Noah’s Ark in her public school textbook for Earth Science. How can this be?

Instead of filling these kids’ minds with nonsense about sedimentary rocks from billions of years ago (when we know the earth is only 6,000 years old!) they should be taught how they’re all here today because the 600-year-old Noah loaded all the animals two-by-two on his big ark, and thereby preserved life on Earth.

I believe without the ark, your explanation of the world fails being “balanced and noninflammatory.”

Which is why me and the others in the prayer circle are planning to show up for the public hearing we are entitled to under the new Instructional Materials Act passed by legislature.

Just say when.

And speaking of funny yet sad, I have a quick story to tell you. I’ve been invited to appear on radio station WGCU’s Gulf Coast Live show next Wednesday. The instructional materials law sponsor Rep. Byron Donalds is also supposed to be a guest. The show’s producer tweeted about it and I responded, mentioning the fine folks at the Florida Citizens’ Alliance. (If you don’t know, the Alliance are the ones who wrote the law, recruited Donalds to sponsor the law, spoke at all of the committee hearings for the law and are now drinking champagne after their success.)


That was the one and only time I’ve ever mentioned the Alliance on Twitter. Minutes later I went back to check on something and I’ll be darned; the Alliance blocked me. Think they’re sensitive about something? I hadn’t mention anything specific in my tame tweet, but I sure as heck am going to now. Have a look at some of the Alliance’s greatest hits (I have more than one Twitter account, so I can still see their stuff):



I want to leave you with this final thought: these folks WON. They got their law passed.

I’m sorry … this isn’t funny … it’s just plain sad.


Be informed. Be active.

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

awarenessThere are two new laws here in Florida that will potentially impact science education in detrimental ways. I’m, of course, talking about the Instructional Materials law and the Religious Expression in Schools law. Florida Citizens for Science has been in the trenches fighting these harmful laws for quite a while. However, with the governor’s signature they’re in full effect as laws as of July 1.

So, now what? Tell people about them! That’s the phase we’re in now.

We’ve certainly been very loud nonstop for several days and it’s been amazingly effective. Followers on social media have skyrocketed and requests to join Florida Citizens for Science are flooding our email. The majority of that response has come from the great media coverage we’ve received lately. And more stories are coming.

The more informed people we have across the state, the greater the chances of keeping ideological crusaders from poisoning quality science education. Citizens need to be aware of what’s going on at their school board meetings. Citizens need to participate in local textbook selection committees. Citizens need to be ACTIVE! And the first step in accomplishing these things is making citizens aware of the new laws. Will you help us?

Here’s a sample of the laws’ media coverage:

The Washington Post published New Florida law lets any resident challenge what’s taught in science classes:

But Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Council (sic) for Science Education, said that affidavits filed by supporters of the bill suggest that science instruction will be a focus of challenges. One affidavit from a Collier County resident complained that evolution and global warming were taught as “reality.” Another criticized her child’s sixth-grade science curriculum, writing that “the two main theories on the origin of man are the theory of evolution and creationism,” and that her daughter had only been taught about evolution.

“It’s just the candor with which the backers of the bill have been saying, ‘Yeah, we’re going to go after evolution, we’re going to go after climate change,'” that has him worried, Branch said.

Forbes published Two Sad Ironies In Florida Passing Its ‘Anti-Science’ Law:

As I reflect on this new Florida law, it is almost a slap in the face to a state that so many associate with scientific greatness and the space program. It is also now hosts several private enterprises like Space X, which are pushing the boundaries of science and technology. These companies will need a scientifically literate workforce not students spewing fringe theories. This Florida law sends a dangerous message about sound science and would make me nervous if I was a parent sending a child into this type of situation.

CNN published Now anyone in Florida can challenge what’s taught in schools:

Florida Citizens for Science, a group of parents and teachers promoting science education, has been a vocal opponent of the legislation. The organization has complained on its website that anyone with “an ideological agenda,” not just parents, will be able to challenge material.

“People who crusade against basic, established science concepts such as evolution and climate change will have the green light to bog down the textbook selection process on the local level and bully school boards into compromises that will negatively impact science education,” the group wrote in a blog post.

Mashable published Oh boy, Florida residents can now challenge the science taught in public schools:

Proponents of Florida’s measure have argued that state-approved textbooks are “too liberal,” and that some books in school libraries are inappropriate.

In a Feb. 1 affidavit to lawmakers, one supporter asked to remove books about Cuba from elementary school libraries, complaining that they “glorified” Fidel Castro’s Communist ideals. As a certified teacher, she said she’s witnessed “children being taught that Global Warming is a reality.” Yet when “parents question these theories, they are ignored,” she wrote.

Another woman lamented in an affidavit that evolution is “presented as fact,” when she believes it’s fiction.

The Tampa Bay Times’ Gradebook blog posted a podcast Textbook challenges, new laws, school grades and more:

Gov. Rick Scott signed into law HB 989, expanding county residents’ ability to challenge public school textbooks and instructional materials. The bill arose from Collier County, where book battles often arise. Parent Michelle Groenings, who has served on the district’s instructional materials review committee, spoke with reporter Jeff Solochek about her concerns with the new law, and how things have played out in her home district.

Salon published Florida law allows any parent to challenge how evolution, climate change are taught in schools:

Less than a week after satellite temperature data was revised and the full extent of global warming became even clearer, Florida’s Republican Governor Rick Scott signed into law a bill that will make it easier for any Florida resident to object to science-based education in the classroom.

The Palm Beach Post published New state law will put Florida science teaching under attack:

Opening the floodgates for ideological fights over classroom content, a new Florida law is about to give climate change-deniers and evolution skeptics a fresh round of weapons to heave against science in the state’s classrooms.

In fact, it will help all kinds of people with axes to grind about what’s taught in the public schools.

PBS’s Frontline published A New Wave of Bills Takes Aim at Science in the Classroom:

The bill has plenty of critics, including the National Coalition Against Censorship and the Florida School Boards Association. The National Science Teachers Association’s executive director, David Evans, described it as “a way of banning books by folks who basically don’t like the results of science.”

Science teacher Brandon Haught, a spokesman for Florida Citizens for Science and author of “Going Ape: Florida’s Battles over Evolution in the Classroom,” worries the bill could be used “as a bludgeon” by “people with an anti-science agenda.”

“Creationists, climate change deniers, anti-vaccine people — it gives them a much stronger voice in deciding what our students learn,” Haught said.

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.

The Tampa Bay Times published School districts gird for impact of Florida’s new ‘religious expression’ law:

David Barkey, religious freedom counsel and southeastern area counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, suggested the Legislature took one step beyond the Constitution in requiring school districts to establish a policy that provides a forum for student religious expression. Districts were given the option to do so five years ago with an “inspirational messages” law, and none acted.

Barkey also observed that the law could open the door to unfettered religious commentary in the public schools. He pointed to the first line of the law after the section name: “A school district may not discriminate against a student, parent, or school personnel on the basis of a religious viewpoint or religious expression.”

If a school cannot discriminate against any type of religious expression, he said, it could result in a classroom teacher who ad libs controversial views into a lesson to children who have no recourse but to listen.

Brandon Haught, a Volusia County high school science teacher who runs the Florida Citizens for Science blog, had big concerns.

“There are teachers who do teach science but who don’t believe in evolution,” Haught said. “This could embolden them to say, ‘The law is on my side’ ” and start covering topics such as creationism or intelligent design in their classes.

The law does not speak directly to that issue.

Second Nexus published Florida Approves “Anti-Science” Legislation in Victory for Religious Right:

An affidavit from Mary Ellen Cash, a Collier County resident, charges that evolution and global warming were taught as “reality.” Still another affidavit––this one from Collier County resident David P. Bolduc––complains that an 8th-grade U.S. History textbook “teaches the children to glorify 13th century Muslim Kings of West Africa” and that it “teaches the children to be subservient to a despotic U.S. president” by teaching them about the president’s ability to issue executive orders.

In a blog post, Brandon Haught, of Florida Citizens for Science, a group of parents and teachers advocating for science education, condemns the new legislation. “This means our fight is only just now beginning,” he wrote. “Each and every one of us has to be on alert. You must keep an eye on your local school board and everyone who brings forth a complaint about textbooks. If you don’t, we truly lose. At this point the fight is at the local level. If you’re not there and willing to stand up for sound science education, then we’re done.”

Stay tuned. There is more media coverage to come.

Governor signs Religious Liberties bill into law

Saturday, June 10th, 2017

The Florida legislature presented Governor Rick Scott with the Religious Liberties bill on Monday and on Friday he signed it into law. There are two sections of the bill (link to pdf) that concern us here at Florida Citizens for Science. One of them is:

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-2There is no further explanation of that sentence. News stories have pointed out that the law says school personnel can participate in student-led religious activities, which is true. But that provision is in a separate section of the law as written. So, the above statement, taken at face value, says that a teacher who expresses a religious view will not be discriminated against. How far can that be taken? Will a creationist teacher be allowed to counter evolution lessons with creationist statements and then claim it’s permitted under this Florida law if confronted?

It appears that is how others are interpreting the law. The Florida Citizens’ Alliance, which is actively fighting against evolution and climate change in textbooks, has boldly stated their intention to use this law:

The group [Florida Citizens’ Alliance] 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.

The other section of the new law that has us worried is:

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.

Let’s say that a student is given an assignment related to evolution. A student parrots the correct evolution explanation (in compliance with what the law says about evaluating assignments) but then adds creationist views. Can the teacher do anything? Teachers typically get to know their students throughout the year and it may be clear to the teacher that this student doesn’t actually understand evolution. Would it be considered “discrimination” if the teacher wants to do remediation with the student in an effort to help the student learn and understand the science?

The bill is signed into law. What now? If this new law concerns you, then it’s up to you to do something at the local level. Simply liking and sharing on social media doesn’t get the job done. You have to be an active participant in the business of your local school board and local schools. If you don’t stand up for science education where you live, who will?

Give the Devil his Due

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

All has been very quiet concerning the odious instructional materials bill lately. The bill would allow any resident, not just parents, to protest against what’s found in textbooks, including coverage of evolution, climate change, vaccines, etc. On top of that, school districts must appoint a hearing officer to consider such complaints. It’s bad news all around. But the bill has yet to be delivered to the governor for his signature. I’ve been searching high and low and asking many different people but I have yet to get answers concerning this part of the lawmaking process. Is waiting this long to give a bill to the governor normal? How long can legislators wait? Is there a deadline? I have no idea but I would love to know. Any help would be appreciated.

On the other hand, the religious liberties bill has been plopped onto the governor’s desk. He has until June 20 to take action on it. So, NOW would be a good time to contact his office and urge a veto. This bill would give teachers and school staff the right to express religious views in school and would allow students to express religious views in coursework without discrimination. For us here at Florida Citizens for Science, this is a concern because of the possibility of creationism and other religious views being inserted into science classrooms.

satanologyAnd we’re not alone. Palm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino doesn’t pull any punches in his latest piece: Banner flap at Boca High ought to be lesson for Florida lawmakers. Some excerpts:

The Palm Beach County School Board has had a practice of allowing religious groups to advertise their brand of salvation at county public schools. At least that was the practice until Stevens asked Boca Raton High School to display his banner, which said, “The Church of Satanology” and “Give the Devil his due.”

There’s nothing like tossing a Satanist in the punch bowl to get public organizations to shake themselves awake to the Constitutional dictates regarding the separation of church and state.

This session, our state lawmakers passed The Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act, a bill that encourages more religious proselytizing in public schools.

Its two main proponents have been Rep. Kim Daniels, a Democrat from Jacksonville. She’s a self-described apostle who came to the legislature as a Christian evangelical preacher. Daniels believes that witches are trying to take over the country, and may be working extra hard on President Donald Trump. Seriously.

In the Florida Senate, her partner in this quest is State Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican who owns a string of funeral homes and was the former executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida.

Baxley’s not a fan of evolution, and thinks it’s unfair that Florida’s public school children are being exposed to a science curriculum that doesn’t allow that the earth is just 6,000 years old.

They were the guiding hands that successfully passed a bill that would expand the role of religion in Florida’s public schools to levels that have alarmed the American Civil Liberties Union, the Florida Citizens for Science and the Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

I suspect that state lawmakers will do what the Palm Beach County School District is doing — remembering that promoting religious expression in public schools means promoting all forms of religious expression. Something that’s suddenly not such a great idea.

Nature notes one bad bill; no one notices the other

Friday, May 12th, 2017

nature-header.ed_400x400-150x150The science journal Nature published an article about antiscience bills that have cropped up across America, with a special focus on our very own Sunshine State: Revamped ‘anti-science’ education bills in United States find success. The piece focuses on the instructional materials bill that pretty much sailed through the state House and Senate.

The Florida legislation, for example, does not try to change state or district education standards. Instead, it enables any tax-paying resident of a given county to file complaints about the curriculum of the schools in their district. A complaint would trigger a public hearing to determine if the material in question is “accurate, balanced, noninflammatory, current, free of pornography … and suited to students’ needs”, according to the legislation.

“But who decides what ‘balanced’ and ‘noninflammatory’ mean?” asks Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, based in New York City. Currently, instructional materials come from an approved list provided by the state, she says.

However, I think it’s important to note something missing from each and every news outlet’s coverage of Florida’s antiscience legislation. Even our friends at the National Center for Science Education never touched on it. No one ever talks about the religious liberties bill that also successfully made it through the lawmaking gauntlet. We here at Florida Citizens for Science were against that bill from the beginning because of its potential negative impact on science education. I even personally testified during public comment time at a Senate hearing about it. I encourage you to read through our series of posts on the bill. Admittedly, we eventually took our focus off it, because it was clear we had no chance of stopping it and we felt that our time and energy were better spent on the instructional materials bill. But we’ve felt throughout that the religious liberties bill was still a threat to science education.

We’ve been right all along.

The group [Florida Citizens’ Alliance] 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.

Any time you take any action in protest against the implementation of the instructional materials bill, I encourage you to mention the religious liberties bill, too. They’re connected at the hip and we need the general public to be aware of that.

A Tale of Two Bills

Friday, March 31st, 2017

houseThe Religious Expression in Public Schools bills, which invite conflicts between creationism and evolution in science classrooms (see our Religious Liberties Act 2017 blog category), are nearing the finish line in the Florida legislature. The Senate version won easy approval through the entire process and the House version passed through all of its committee stops without a hiccup. All that’s left for the House to do is cast the final vote for its version. But that’s the tricky part. The Senate and House have different versions. In order for the bill to be shipped to the governor, the bills have to be reconciled into one. The Tampa Bay Times Gradebook blog outlines what’s happening now: Religious expression in Florida public schools: Which bill will survive?

Now both bills are before the House, in very different forms. To become law, of course, they’d have to be identical.

On Friday, Daniels moved to eliminate the differences — by filing an amendment to the Senate bill in which she’d replace it entirely with the House version. If that gets approved, the House would return the bill to the Senate, which could agree, amend the bill again, or simply let it die.

That next decision will be made in the House on Tuesday. It’s not too late to express your opinion to your representative. Who knows what will happen?

Quick Bills Updates

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

Old_and_New_Florida_State_Capitol,_Tallahassee,_East_view_20160711_1This is a quick update on the Religious Liberties and Instructional Materials bills we’re watching in the Florida legislature.

Religious Liberties:

The bill successfully passed through all Senate committees and the full Senate approved it on a 23-13 vote.

The House version successfully passed through all committees and is awaiting its full House vote.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State opposes this bill: Fla. Legislators Push To Turn Public Schools Into Mission Fields.

Most troubling, these bills will harm students’ religious freedom. Both SB 436 and HB 303 would require teachers to permit religious expression in all school assignments without penalty, opening the door for students who so desire to use class time to proselytize and advance their own religious views on classmates. A student, for example, could use every assignment that includes a class presentation as an opportunity to convince any non-believers in the class that they need to accept Jesus to achieve salvation. Alternatively, students in science classes could try to turn every class discussion into a debate about evolution vs. creationism.

Instructional Materials:

The bill passed through one Senate committee and is waiting to be scheduled for its only other committee stop before the full Senate considers it.

The House version passed through one committee and is waiting to be scheduled for two other committee stops before the full House considers it.

The Tampa Bay Times Gradebook blog briefly mentions our concerns about this bill and also shows we’re not the only folks opposed to the bill: Concern mounts over textbook, coding bills as they gain steam in Florida Legislature.

Brandon Haught of Florida Citizens for Science posted on the group’s blog this indictment: “It’s unanimous … Florida lawmakers disregard danger to science education.”

He and others pointed to the affidavits submitted by bill supporters, in which they complain about such things as evolution being taught as fact rather than theory, and said the Legislature must beware the motivations.

And the National Center for Science Education is also keeping an eye on developments here: Antiscience bills progress in Florida.

Both bills were amended in committee before they passed, eliminating two worrisome provisions (involving eligibility to file a complaint and consistency of instructional materials with the state science standards).

But in a March 27, 2017, blog post, Brandon Haught of Florida Citizens for Science emphasized that passage of the bills even as amended would threaten to inundate local school boards with scientifically unfounded attacks on climate change and evolution.

To demonstrate his point, Haught cited affidavits submitted in support of the bills that complained, e.g., “I have witnessed students being taught evolution as a fact … rather than a theory … I have witnessed children being taught that Global Warming is a reality.”

Religious Liberties bills nearing finish line

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

The Florida Senate approved the bad Religious Liberties bill (SB 436) on a vote of 23-13.

The version in the House (HB 303) passed through both of its committee stops on unanimous yes votes and will now go to the full House.

The only thing that will stop or modify it is the fact that the House and Senate versions are a bit different. That means that when the House approves their version, there needs to be negotiations between the two chambers until they agree on a final bill. If they can’t agree, the bill can die. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.

baxleyOur arguments were either not heard by Florida’s lawmakers or they were dismissed as unimportant. An article published today at least mentions our concern: Senate OKs school religious expression bill.

The bill (SB 436) says school districts may not discriminate against any student, parent or school employee because they shared their religious viewpoint.

But those opposed to the bill say it could open the door from everything from cracking down on science teachers who teach evolution to allowing Christian students to intimidate those of other faiths.

“Could it be provoking? Could it be concerning? Yeah, that’s healthy thought. That’s what happens in a free world,” said Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, and sponsor of the bill.

Sen. Baxley has been advocating for years for challenging evolution lessons in our schools (see our post Baxley and the Religious Liberties Act). If this bill passes, he may finally get his wish.

Opening the door to unscientific, religious concepts in a public school science classroom is not “provoking” or “healthy.” It’s doing a disservice to our children who could become confused or misled about what is and is not science.