Welcome back to another exciting episode of “Days of our Florida Lives.” In our last episode, the Florida Board of Education voted to approve a new set of state science standards, which include for the first time official inclusion of the word evolution. However, the standards were tweaked by inserting the phrase “scientific theory of” throughout the document. There was a dramatic debate Feb. 19 as public speakers and a board member introduced a new twist (for Florida, at least) called “academic freedom.” The objective was to pull off a little magic act: wave so-called academic freedom around for the audience to see while slipping in religious objections to evolution behind the back. Fortunately, the ploy didn’t work.
However, today’s episode picks right up where the last left off. Florida Senator Ronda Storms introduced Senate Bill 2692 Friday, Feb. 29. The bill’s title says: “Relating to Teaching Chemical and Biological Evolution,” and Storms wants the bill to be called the “Academic Freedom Act.” Relating to evolution, eh? Not too transparent, is it? Why not have this “Act” cover all subjects instead of just one subject? Well, we know why, of course, but the mystery is why she would make the Act so doggone obvious.
Text from the bill:
A bill to be entitled An act relating to teaching chemical and biological evolution; providing a short title; providing legislative intent; providing public school teachers with a right to present scientific information relevant to the full range of views on biological and chemical origins; prohibiting a teacher from being discriminated against for presenting such information; prohibiting students from being penalized for subscribing to a particular position on evolution; clarifying that the act does not require any change in state curriculum standards or promote any religious position; providing an effective date.
Be It Enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida:
Section 1. (1) This section may be cited as the “Academic Freedom Act.”
(2) The Legislature finds that current law does not expressly protect the right of teachers to objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological evolution. The Legislature finds that in many instances educators have experienced or feared discipline, discrimination, or other adverse consequences as a result of presenting the full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological evolution. The Legislature further finds that existing law does not expressly protect students from discrimination due to their positions or views regarding biological or chemical evolution. The Legislature finds that the topic of biological and chemical evolution has generated intense controversy about the rights of teachers and students to hold differing views on those subjects. It is therefore the intent of the Legislature that this section expressly protects those rights.
(3) Every public school teacher in the state’s K-12 school system shall have the affirmative right and freedom to objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding biological and chemical evolution in connection with teaching any prescribed curriculum regarding chemical or biological origins.
(4) A public school teacher in the state’s K-12 school system may not be disciplined, denied tenure, terminated, or otherwise discriminated against for objectively presenting scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding biological or chemical evolution in connection with teaching any prescribed curriculum regarding chemical or biological origins.
(5) Public school students in the state’s K-12 school system may be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials, but may not be penalized in any way because he or she subscribes to a particular position or view regarding biological or chemical evolution.
(6) The rights and privileges contained in this section apply when the subject of biological or chemical origins is part of the curriculum. The provisions of this section do not require or encourage any change in the state curriculum standards for the K-12 public school system.
(7) This section shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.
Section 2. This act shall take effect October 1, 2008.
Chances are that this bill will go nowhere, slipping into a soap opera coma. It’s typical grandstanding, and everyone knows it. (The Questionable Authority blog gives us a little background on Senator Storms.) This bill was written in a way to make it way too obvious what the purpose is, and so it won’t be taken seriously. It still wouldn’t hurt to write to your Florida legislators to let them know what you think of this.
State Rep. John Legg, who serves as vice chairman of the House Education Committee and a deputy whip in the House, was interviewed for the St. Petersburg Times education blog over the weekend. Here’s what he said about this particular subject:
What about some of these hot button issues – evolution, Bright Futures, just to name two. Are those going to continue to be political hot potatoes?
You know, on evolution, from the members I’ve talked to, most members are comfortable with what the State Board has come up with. Evolution is a theory. And I believe it’s a theory. But there’s other theories out there. And I think you should teach them all, or teach the appropriate ones out there. I think that issue is probably dying down. But you never know. A member may file a bill on that one. I don’t know of a member that is. The State Board has addressed it.