Archive for the 'Religious Liberties Act 2017' Category

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.

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.

Lots and lots of bill updates today

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

senateThere’s quite a bit to talk about today. I’ll start with the Religious Liberties bills that we oppose on the grounds they can negatively impact science education. One passed the Senate judiciary committee this afternoon on a narrow, party line vote of 5-4.

I spoke at this meeting but I don’t think I performed all that great. The committee chair was impatient as the meeting was running long and he started to impose a time limit on speakers that he hadn’t for the hour leading up to this bill’s discussion. So, by the time I got up there I had already chopped two paragraphs from my planned remarks but I still felt pressure while standing before the committee chair to speed things up even more. So, I wound up stumbling and pausing a bit as I tried to make sure my most important points were covered. You can watch the video here. The Religious Liberties bills portion starts at 52:04. Sen. Dennis Baxley, the bill sponsor, irritated me a bit when in his closing remarks he said he wasn’t going to chase rabbits and red herrings, which I believe meant, at least in part, my arguments about evolution.

houseI couldn’t attend the House committee meeting that was considering that chamber’s version of the bill because it was being held the same time as the Senate meeting. But according to the news articles, there was overwhelming support for the bill. The vote was 14-0.

There are a few news articles popping up already this evening about the bill. I and Florida Citizens for Science do get good mentions in some of them.

Miami Herald: Plan to fortify religious expression in public schools quickly advancing

Sunshine State News: Religious Liberties Act Heading to the Senate Floor

Florida Politics: ‘Religious expression in public schools’ ready for full Senate vote


The other bills we’re tracking about Instructional Materials got some press today. But they’re, fortunately, still stuck in the starting gate with no scheduled committee meetings yet.

NBC, Channel 2, Fort Myers: Creationism, evolution optional in Florida classrooms with new bill


And I’ll close for now with my interview with the Tampa Bay Times’ Gradebook blog podcast that was published today: Can science and religious expression coexist in Florida public schools?

Spring break in Tallahassee

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

Old_and_New_Florida_State_Capitol,_Tallahassee,_East_view_20160711_1I’m in Tallahassee today. It’s spring break for me but rather than head to a beach I decided to visit our state capitol to speak to the judiciary senate committee about Senate Bill 436. That’s the Religious Expression in Public Schools bill that we believe can harm science education. There’s still time to give the senators on the committee your opinion on this bill by just calling or emailing them this morning. Then you can watch the meeting at 2 p.m. via the committee’s webpage.

The House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee is meeting at the same time to consider their chamber’s version of the bill. I can’t be in two places at once, so I’ve chosen to be in the Senate. The House bill has a few proposed changes to it that make it a little less of a concern. Of course, we still have some issues with it, but the Senate version is unchanged at this point and so it is the higher priority.

My short speech covering our main concerns is ready to go. It will be interesting to see who else shows up with their two cents. I’ll keep you updated as best as I can. Wish me luck.

House version of the Religious Liberties bill now moving

Friday, March 10th, 2017

houseWe’ve been tracking the Senate version of the Religious Expression in Public Schools bill, which has successfully navigated one committee hearing and is headed for its next one next week. We are concerned with two troubling parts of the bill that could have negative implications for science education. Please see our previous posts about this in the Religious Liberties Act 2017 blog category. So far, the Senate bill hasn’t been modified in any way.

The House version of the bill had been stagnant for a while but is now moving forward. It is scheduled for its first hearing in the PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee Tuesday, March 14 at 2 p.m. Coincidentally, that’s the exact same date and time as the next Senate committee hearing.

However, it’s interesting to see that the House bill has already been amended. A simpler version of the bill will now be considered. Here’s the original for comparison. Keeping in mind that we’ve had two main concerns about this bill, the possibility of teachers using this “Religious Liberties” bill as permission to teach unscientific religious views in the science classroom and the possibility of students using the bill as permission to use unscientific religious views in their classwork, one of those issues is no longer a problem in the House version. The language about teacher (and other school personnel) religious liberties has been removed.

But that still leaves the student classwork concern on our plate. Even though the bill states students’ work must meet “expected academic standards relating to the course curriculum and requirements,” we’re still worried that this can open the door for unscientific religious views being expressed as a way to challenge the teacher’s authority. We can see an example of this from a Kentucky lawmaker in support of a similar bill there. We certainly don’t mind spirited discussion and respectful debate in the science classroom, but we’re worried that a student (or the student’s parents) could claim that a teacher who tries to further explain the scientific facts in response to the student’s answer is now discriminating against the student.

Many teachers already shortchange evolution instruction due to the “chilling effect” of possible conflict with students and families. This part of the bill could turn the thermostat down a few more degrees.

So far, the Senate bill still has both troubling sections in it. We’ll see if it gets amended to match the House bill before Tuesday’s committee meetings. I will be surprised if it does. The bill’s sponsor, Dennis Baxley, recently wrote a piece for the Ocala Star Banner: Protecting free speech in schools. This line says a lot about his strong views:

Without this free religious expression, we are in fact establishing a state-sponsored religion — secular humanism.

But don’t let up the pressure! Call and email and visit with lawmakers in both chambers. Especially focus your efforts on the members of the House PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee and the Senate Judiciary Committee. And if you are able to make it to either Tuesday meeting, I’d be happy to see you there! Let me know and perhaps we can meet up beforehand.

Religious Liberties bill on a fast track

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

senateThe Religious Expression in Public Schools bill filed in the Florida Senate is now scheduled to be heard by the judiciary committee March 14 (Tuesday) at 2 p.m. We need you to contact the senators on the committee and urge them to amend or stop this bill due to concerns over its impact on science education.

The meeting is during my spring break, which gives me an opportunity to possibly attend and speak there. If anyone else can attend, please let me know.

For your convenience, below are the two main points we need to make to the senators. You can also see all of our posts about this bill in the Religious Liberties Act 2017 blog category.

First, we are concerned about this line in the proposed bills: “A school district may not discriminate against a student, parent, or school personnel on the basis of a religious viewpoint or religious expression.” Does this allow teachers or other school personnel to state unscientific religious views on science topics such as age of the earth and evolution? If anyone tries to correct the teacher’s statement, would that be seen as discriminating against the teacher?

Second, we are concerned about this section of the proposed bills: “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.” Does this allow students to give unscientific religious views as answers on questions about science topics such as age of the earth and evolution? If a teacher tries to explain to the student how the religious answer is unscientific and incorrect, would the teacher be seen as discriminating against the student?

The above questions in bold are valid, keeping in mind that the bill sponsor, Sen. Dennis Baxley, has been documented saying that he would like to see the teaching of evolution balanced with other views. Furthermore, a similar bill in Kentucky was supported by a lawmaker who admitted that students should be allowed to say the earth is only 6,000 years old and any attempt to correct the student would be seen as “retaliation.”

Now is the time to start calling and emailing the senators on the judiciary committee. Don’t wait. Do it now.

Science is not poetry

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

earthPalm Beach Post columnist Frank Cerabino has a few things to say about Religious Liberties bills sponsored in the Senate by Dennis Baxley: Getting liberated from science in Florida’s ‘religious liberties’ bill. Cerabino brings up a bit about Baxley’s past consternation over science education:

Back when the Ocala Republican took a break from writing deadly bills like Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, he became the executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida, where he argued that it was unfair for Florida’s impressionable school children to be force-fed a science curriculum that discouraged them from thinking that the Earth is just 6,000 years old, despite the conclusive scientific evidence to the contrary.

And then he notes one of Florida Citizens for Science’s concerns about the bill:

“Does this allow students to give unscientific religious views as answers on questions about science topics such as age of the earth and evolution?” Haught wrote. “If a teacher tries to explain to the student how the religious answer is unscientific and incorrect, would the teacher be seen as discriminating against the student?”

It’s good to see our views getting a wider audience. Cerabino explains very well how allowing students to express religious views on a poetry assignment is quite a bit different from doing the same on science homework.

On the other hand, we’ve got a fight on our hands. It looks like the Senate president has taken a shine to the bill: Religion in schools, ‘Stand Your Ground’ changes added to Senate priorities.

Florida Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, added a couple new priorities to his agenda for the 2017 session as the Legislature convened on Tuesday: the revived “Stand Your Ground” changes that will be voted on in the Senate on Thursday and a new bill fortifying “religious liberties” in Florida public schools.

Make your voice heard! Contact the members of the Senate judiciary committee. That’s the next stop for the Religious Liberties bill. Make them aware that the bill has repercussions for science education that they might not have considered. For background and analysis of this bill, see the Religious Liberties Act 2017 blog category.