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Florida "Academic Freedom" Bills

Informational Email - For Florida AAS Members

Marcos Huerta
huerta at aas.org
John Bachcall Public Policy Fellow

Anti-Science Proponents Working to Impose "Academic Freedom" bill to Allow Unscientific Concepts Taught in Science Classrooms.

Summary

Creationists are working under the guise of "academic freedom" to legally authorize the teaching of unscientific concepts in science classes, through the passage of bills with the innocuous language of "academic freedom." The bills would authorize the "right to present scientific information relevant to the full range of views on biological and chemical origins. Prohibits a teacher from being discriminated against for presenting such information. Prohibits students from being penalized for subscribing to a particular position on evolution, etc."

Teachers or administrators could use these bills, if passed, to defend the presentation of refuted creationist attacks on evolutionary sciences. By authorizing the teaching of a so-called "full range of views on biological and chemical evolution," Florida would encourage teachers to present creationist speculation at the expense of scientific, peer-reviewed, material.

Background - Positive Changes to Teaching Standards and Legislative Response

In February 2008, the Florida Board of Education adopted a set of highly-praised revisions to the standards for the teaching of science in public schools. The prominent addition of the word "evolution", which had been avoided in all previous editions of the standards, was among the many revisions that were originally proposed. This was a catalyst for a public dialogue on the teaching of evolution and "Intelligent Design" in science classrooms, and resulted in numerous action alerts and phone calls from organizations that opposed their adoption.

In response to the Board's adoption of the new standards, two pieces of legislation were filed - Senate Bill 2692 and House Bill 1483, both deemed as relating to "teaching chemical and biological evolution" and both entitled the "Academic Freedom Act." The bills, if passed, would provide cover for the teaching of religious beliefs as science in Florida's science classrooms.

Both bills also claim to protect teachers and students from discrimination for their beliefs. This suggests that discrimination exists when it does not, and draws attention away from the subject matter of creationism. No new law is required to authorize the teaching of scientific fact; Senate Bill 2692 and House Bill 1483 are designed to allow the teaching of creationism.

Unfortunately, these bills have a reasonable chance of being passed. The bill got through the first hurdle - the Education committee - on March 26. Future hearings and committee votes can be scheduled on short notice.

Action

It's important that the Florida legislature here from scientists and their constituents on this issue. You can find your Florida State Representative or State Senator by using the link below:

http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/SECTIONS/Representatives/myrepresentative....

http://www.flsenate.gov/Legislators/index.cfm?Mode=Find%20Your%20Legisla...

An example letter is included below:

....
EXAMPLE LETTER
Dear sir or madam,

As a citizen of Florida, I believe that the success of our state's economy and education rests on scientific industry and science knowledge in classrooms. Please be aware that the best scientific evidence points overwhelmingly in the direction of evolutionary science, and thus is the most appropriate information to teach in Florida's public schools.

Evolutionary, geological and cosmological sciences are acknowledged throughout the scientific community to be the most insightful explanations for the varieties of biological life and the history of the planet, though scientists continue to question aspects of evolutionary science and continue to do research to explore many of its ramifications. The core elements of evolution as presented in textbooks today have been repeatedly tested and verified.

Students should be tested on their knowledge of these well-understood concepts, and legislators should insist that students should spend their valuable classroom time in learning, through classwork and homework, thebest knowledge that centuries of scientific investigation have placed before them.

Sincerley,
your name
...

You can also keep track of the developments on this bill at the following link:

http://www.flascience.org/wp/?p=496

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