Archive for January, 2017

March for Science, Florida

Monday, January 30th, 2017

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

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

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

Monday, January 23rd, 2017

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

Friday, January 20th, 2017

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.

Darwin Day, Central Florida

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

I’m speaking at Central Florida Freethought Community’s Darwin Day event Sunday, February 12, 1 – 4 p.m. at the University Club of Winter Park.

The event features Aron Ra, evolution debater, science educator, and host of the Ra-Men Podcast. Also Dr. Daniel Batcheldor, astrophysicist and author of “Astronomy Saves the World”; Brandon Haught, biology teacher, Founding Board Member of Florida Citizens for Science and author of “Going Ape;” and Valerie First, evolution educator and “Street Teacher.”

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