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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Florida Follow-Up ("Academic Freedom Act")

The Florida Senate's Committee on Education Pre-K–12 voted 4-1 in favor of a new bill, introduced by Republican Senator Ronda Storms, that would "protect" teachers and students who present and discuss "scientific information" that questions and criticizes evolution. To explain what is meant by the term "scientific information," the committee amended the bill to include a definition: "germane current facts, data, and peer-reviewed research specific to the topic of chemical and biological evolution as prescribed in Florida's Science Standards." This definition would seem to bar "intelligent design" from the classroom, and many teachers saw it is a positive change from the original version of the bill, whose goal was to let teachers offer the "full range of scientific views" about origins and evolution. Keep in mind, however, that there is a small number of peer-reviewed ID papers (about 10), as well as the recently launched Web-based Answers Research Journal, which describes itself as a "peer-reviewed technical journal for the publication of interdisciplinary scientific and other relevant research from the perspective of the recent Creation and the global Flood within a biblical framework."
And there are other reasons many still worry the bill is trying to sneak religion into science classes. For one thing, a bill that protects teachers and students from discrimination and punishment for challenging evolution seems unnecessary, given that the Board of Education, cited in a Senate staff analysis of the bill (section 5), says it has no record of any such complaints. (Storms counters by saying victims are too afraid to come forward). Secondly, the bill is backed by a number of conservative activists, including Florida Family Action—a spin-off of the Florida Family Policy Council, which endeavors to make "the case for biblical family values in the public square" and counts "intelligent design" among its core issues—and Ben Stein, who's been screening his pro-ID movie across the country. And then there's Senator Larcenia Bullard, who voted for the bill because she believes teaching young students about evolution "may be brainwashing."
Senator Ted Deutch cast the one dissenting vote—namely because there have been no reports of discrimination and, he said, philosophical debates don't belong in science class. The bill will now go to the Senate's judiciary committee. —Heather Wax