Archive for the 'Religious Liberties Act 2017' Category

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.

Religious Liberties bill on Senate floor Tuesday

Monday, March 20th, 2017

Here’s a few quick updates on the Religious Expression in Public Schools bills that we’re opposed to.

senateFirst, the Senate version has been approved by all of its assigned committees and is now scheduled to be debated on the Senate floor tomorrow (Tuesday). If I understand the procedure, this is an opportunity for senators to ask the bill sponsor (Sen. Dennis Baxley) questions and engage in debate. But I don’t think there will be any voting. That should come during the bill’s “3rd reading” at a later date. However, I could be wrong; I’m certainly not an expert in these matters. Regardless, the time for citizens to make public comments on this bill during senate proceedings is over. You best option now is to get on the phone now and to email now. Tell your senator and any other senators who you think will listen why we are concerned about this bill. See the Religious Liberties Act 2017 category here for ideas.

The House version sailed through one committee and is now waiting to be put on the meeting schedule for the full Education Committee. Now would be a good time to call and email representatives on that committee and see if another embarrassing tent-revival-style meeting and unanimous vote can be avoided. (That atmosphere at the last meeting should make anyone who actually cares about religious liberties for all students cringe; but I digress.)

The Orlando Sentinel posted a story online today about the bills and mentioned Florida Citizens for Science’s concerns: Lawmakers’ push for ‘religious liberties’ in schools sparks debate.

Brandon Haught, a biology teacher in Volusia County and a member of Florida Citizens for Science, told lawmakers the bill would hurt science education.

Some teachers might feel free to discuss evolution from a “religious perspective,” and some students might feel they could claim “religious discrimination” if a teacher tried to explain “the science,” Haught said.

“This bill would cast a chilling effect on science teachers across the state who would prefer to shortchange evolution instruction rather than deal with potential conflicts with students, parents and then community,” he added.

And before I wrap up, it’s worth noting that the House sponsor of the bill has been the subject of some controversy: Jax State Rep Kim Daniels Accused of Campaign Fund Violations.

More press about bills

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

There are more news stories today about both the Religious Liberties bills and the Instructional Materials bills that we here at Florida Citizens for Science are opposed to and tracking.

Naples Daily News: Senate committee pushes ‘religious expression’ bill forward

Brandon Haught, a high school biology teacher representing the organization Florida Citizens for Science, says the bill would have detrimental effects specifically in science education.

“Does this mean that a teacher or school personnel can then talk about stuff like the age of the Earth and evolution from a religious perspective, and if someone was to try to counsel them not to do that, would that be discrimination against the teacher?”

Haught also raised concerns about students being able to refute what is being taught based on their own religious beliefs.

“This has a chilling effect on science teachers across the state who would prefer to short-change evolution instruction rather than deal with potential conflicts with students, parents and the community,” Haught said.

Tampa Bay Times: ‘Religious liberties’ measures diverge, but advance

The bills were once identical, but the House Pre-K-12 Quality Subcommittee amended its bill to make it more narrow than the Senate’s …

At this point that seems to be our best hope. The House and Senate versions are different and if they are both approved by their respective chambers, they will need to be reconciled before moving to the governor’s desk. We’ve seen bills fall apart at that stage before and we’re hoping it happens again now.

Meanwhile, the Instructional Materials bills get some media attention too.

Naples Daily News: Leon educators say ‘instructional materials’ bill not needed

Flaugh said he and others in the Alliance define “objectionable material” within the textbooks to be that which is “strongly biased on major issues.” However, critics of the bill say it could be a Trojan horse to undermine instruction of climate change and evolution.

Flaugh characterizes the bill as straightforward, simply a way to control quality when it comes to what a community’s children are reading and discussing.

[…]

Wood, however, thinks the legislation was proposed to benefit special interests with hidden agendas.

“This bill seems like a well-disguised way for single-issue interest groups who don’t have students in public schools to work their agendas,” she said.

textbookskullsKeith Flaugh and his Florida Citizens’ Alliance are trying to tap dance around specifics when called out on them. But they’ve been passing around copies of their “Objectionable Materials” list [pdf document] that shows on page 8:

World History – Ancient Civilization: Author” Holt McDougal, Publisher: Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt
6th grade History: These two pages teach the children that we descended from apes. This is stated as a fact not a theory. http://goo.gl/MNqVBm

That link in their document takes you to a page of their website that states this:

Collier County 6th grade History: These two pages teach the children that we descended from apes. This is stated as a fact not a theory. Nowhere in the material is a balanced discussion of the biblical explanation.

Trojan horse, indeed. Fortunately, both the Senate and House versions of this bill are still stalled with no committee hearings scheduled.