Religious Liberties bill on a fast track

March 9th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

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

March 7th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

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.

Religious Liberties bill passes Senate education committee

March 6th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

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.

Religious Liberties Bill: Analysis and Fasting

March 4th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

I know. It’s the weekend. You’re recharging for the week ahead. But I have to ask you to do something on behalf of science education. I have to ask you to send some emails and make some calls. Yes, your voice matters and right now we really need it.

We here at Florida Citizens for Science have been keeping you updated on some bills in our Florida legislature that we think might cause trouble in science classrooms across the Sunshine State. The Religious Liberties bills, filed in both the House and the Senate, are facing the first hurdle on Monday in a Senate Education Committee hearing. (See the Religious Liberties Act 2017 category of this blog for all the background.) Please take some time this weekend to send an email or leave a phone message with the committee members voicing your opposition to this unnecessary and potentially harmful bill.

I encourage you to read the analysis of the bill written by the Senate Education Committee staff. I think you’ll come away convinced that the bill overall, with or without our science education concerns, is completely unnecessary.

danielsAlso of note is that the House bill sponsor is working overtime in support of the bills. Rep. Kim Daniels has asked supporters to fast in support of the Senate bill in its upcoming committee hearing.

Daniels tells us that constituents of hers wanted such a bill, and unlike any other bill she’s carrying this session, she has worked to sell this one.

Last month, Daniels held a rally in Tallahassee in support of the measure.

And this weekend, she’s leading a fast in support.

“Senate Bill 436 – filed by Senator Baxley as the Companion Bill to HB 303 will be heard on Monday in Tallahassee. We are fasting Sunday from 8 am through Tuesday @ 6pm (The 1st day of Session)…let the Lord lead you on the kind of fast if you desire to participate. Our fast is liquid only,” Daniels posted to Facebook Friday.

Let’s show them that YOU are ready to stand up for sound science education. Flood the senators with correspondence that shows we care, we are active and we are going to speak up on behalf of our children’s education!

Instructional Materials bills starting to get attention

March 3rd, 2017 by Brandon Haught

TextbooksTwo bills filed in the Florida legislature that could make significant changes to how textbooks and other instructional materials are selected and reviewed at the local school district level are getting attention from the media and other organizations. We believe that the bills (House Bill 989 and Senate Bill 1210) could open a back door for inserting creationism and climate change doubts into the classroom and now our concerns are being noted. For background on our opposition to the bills, see the series of posts in our Instructional Materials Bills ’17 category.

First, the Miami New Times has a story today: “Antiscience” Bill Would Force School Boards to Listen to Silly Complaints About Books. The article doesn’t shed any new light on the issue, saying that the House bill’s sponsor, Byron “Donalds, who is also pushing controversial legislation that would undercut the Sunshine Law, could not be reached for comment.” But the story does put our concerns front and center to a wider audience, which we certainly appreciate.

Also, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, an organization that supported our opposition to similar bills last year, is ready to do it again this year: Florida Classroom Censorship Bills Return for Second Year. We’re looking forward to partnering with them for another round.

The House version of the bill has picked up a few co-sponsors. In addition to the main sponsor, Donalds, there are also Joe Gruters, Stan McClain, and Charlie Stone. The bill has been assigned to the PreK-12 Quality Subcommittee, PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, and the Education Committee but it hasn’t been put on any of the committees’ meeting schedules yet.

The Senate version has also picked up co-sponsors. In addition to the main sponsor, Tom Lee, there are also Debbie Mayfield and Greg Steube. The bill has not been assigned to any committees yet.

Update: Religious Liberties bill

February 27th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

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

February 24th, 2017 by Brandon Haught

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

February 23rd, 2017 by Brandon Haught

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.