Archive for February, 2017

Update: Religious Liberties bill

Monday, February 27th, 2017

baxleyA bad bill filed in the Florida Senate by Sen. Dennis Baxley that could potentially affect science education has taken its first step forward. SB 436, entitled the Religious Liberties bill, is scheduled to be considered by the education committee on March 6 at 1:30 p.m.

Many bills are filed in the legislature that then die on the vine without even getting a hearing before a committee. The Religious Liberties bill’s move onto a committee calendar is a bad sign.

Two main areas of concern we at Florida Citizens for Science have with this bill and its House counterpart, HB 303, are the following:

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

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.

I’ll repeat here what we noted earlier: The first quoted 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.

On the one hand, concerning the paragraph addressing student work, 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.

Please take a moment to read our related posts in the Religious Liberties Act 2017 category. Then please take the time to contact the members of the Senate education committee to express your concerns.

When more is not merrier

Friday, February 24th, 2017

We noted yesterday that the bad Instructional Materials bill from last year has been resurrected for another attempt this year in the Florida House. Unfortunately, the House bill now has a companion in the Senate that was filed today: SB 1210. I believe it’s a duplicate of the House bill. The Senate bill was filed by Sen. Tom Lee and co-sponsored by Sen. Debbie Mayfield.

The same folks who were behind the bills last year, the Florida Citizens’ Alliance, are back to take credit for the bill filings this year. Note that at that link they’re providing a way to easily send messages to the bill sponsors and they encourage folks to personalize the provided email text. Anyone can use it … just sayin’.

Our friends at the National Center for Science Education have taken note of the bills: Antiscience Bill in Florida.

And let’s not forget that we’re also monitoring the Religious Liberties bills. See that growing list of posts here. It’s been a while since we’ve had to monitor multiple different bills in a legislative session.

It’s baaaaack: Instructional Materials bill filed

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

TextbooksLast year, Florida Citizens for Science voiced our opposition to bills filed in the Florida legislature that would have made significant changes to how textbooks and other instructional materials are selected and reviewed at the local school district level. The good news is that the bills died. The bad news is that the bill is back for another try in the House.

Rep. Byron Donalds recently filed HB 989: Instructional Materials for K-12 Public Education. It’s nearly identical to the bills filed last year. Here’s a link to last year’s House bill: HB 899. The current bill omits one of the worst parts of last year’s bill about giving parents and taxpayers the right to take their challenges of instructional materials to court. But everything else is still there, such as this requirement: “Provide a noninflammatory, objective, and balanced viewpoint on issues.” That’s a potential back door for inserting creationism and climate change doubts into the classroom. In case anyone thinks we’re being paranoid, remember that the folks behind last year’s bill clearly believe that evolution instruction should be balanced with religion.

So, everything in our press release from last year still applies this year except for the section about Costly Court Cases.

The Tampa Bay Times’ Gradebook blog makes the following observation about Donalds:

Donalds is married to Collier School Board member Erika Donalds, past president of the conservative Florida Coalition of School Board Members, a group that split from the Florida School Boards Association over school choice issues. The coalition is vocally supportive of “home rule” issues.

Happy Darwin Day!

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

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!

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Kentucky gives insight into Florida religious liberties bills

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

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”

Sunday, February 5th, 2017

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.

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

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.