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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Florida Follow-Up ("Academic Freedom Act")

By a vote of 21-17, the Florida Senate passed an "academic freedom" bill yesterday that would allow teachers to "present scientific information relevant to the full range of views on biological and chemical evolution" without fear of punishment. Republican Senator Ronda Storms, who introduced the bill, says its necessary to protect teachers and students who question or criticize evolution (though the Department of Education has no reported case in which a Florida public school teacher or student was discriminated against based on their science teaching or course work). Opponents of the bill, however, say it's trying to sneak religious alternatives to evolution into the science classroom and to weaken the state's new science standards, which use the word "evolution" for the first time. "I know that the bill doesn't even mention creationism," said Senator Arthenia Joyner, "but that's what it's about." Senate Minority Leader Steve Geller, who has long spoken out against the bill, called the debate "embarrassing."
The Senate did shoot down an amendment that would have lined the bill up with its House version, which does more than protect teachers and students who criticize evolution from being disciplined; the House bill, sponsored by Republican Representative Alan Hays (and which could go before the House for consideration by the end of the week), puts the onus on public school teachers, requiring them to provide "a thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution." The bill was changed significantly from the original version introduced by Hays, and the changes are quite different from those made on the Senate version of the bill (the two bills started off as identical). Proponents of the bills are running out of time for a compromise. The legislative session ends on May 2. —Heather Wax