Religious Liberties bill passes Senate education committee

A bill that is potentially harmful to science education in Florida schools was reported favorably (in other words, it passed) by the Senate education committee today. The Religious Liberties bill was passed on a party-line vote of 5-2.

The Senate bill still has to get through a judiciary committee meeting, which has not been scheduled yet. If the bill successfully passes that committee, it will then be sent to the full Senate for consideration.

Meanwhile, the House version of the bill has not been scheduled yet in any of the three committees it’s assigned to.

I invite you to watch the video of the meeting. Discussion about the bill starts early at 00:53 and runs through 59:51. However, our concerns about the bill’s impact on science education were not brought up. Getting our message out there and considered needs to become a priority for Florida Citizens for Science members. See the Religious Liberties Act 2017 blog category for background on this bill.

Our two main concerns are as follows:

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?

teststress1Second, 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.

About Brandon Haught

Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science.
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