Having done battle unsuccessfully with the mainstream scientific community, critics of evolution’s now officially enshrined place in Florida science classes are regrouping with a line of argument more commonly heard in academe.
Two state lawmakers have introduced a proposal, titled the Academic Freedom Act, that they say is aimed at protecting the rights of teachers who “present scientific information” about “the full range of scientific views” on evolution.
Opponents see it as an attempt to introduce religiously based concepts, such as “intelligent design” or creationism, into public school science classes under the banner of academic freedom. The bill says it would not promote religious doctrine of any sort.
The proposal comes weeks after the Florida state board of education—over the objections of some religious groups—approved revised academic standards that strongly support the teaching of evolution. (“Fla. Panel’s Evolution Vote Hailed,” Feb. 27, 2008.)
Companion bills, introduced by Sen. Ronda Storms and Rep. Alan Hays, both Republicans, would keep K-12 teachers from being disciplined or terminated, and students from being “penalized,” for presenting their positions on evolution.
Joe Wolf, the president of Florida Citizens for Science, which opposes the bills, notes that they strongly resemble model legislation supported by the Discovery Institute, a pro-intelligent-design group based in Seattle.
If the move to let evolution opponents cite academic freedom becomes law, “some teachers will step over the line and teach religion,” Mr. Wolf said. “Some are going to get sued.”
But Casey Luskin, a program officer for the Discovery Institute, said the Florida bill is necessary. “Today, it’s the teachers and students who are raising questions about [Charles] Darwin’s theory [of evolution] who are being stifled,” he said via e-mail.
Meanwhile, Florida lawmakers were among those who attended a private showing in Tallahassee March 12 of “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” a new, pro-intelligent-design documentary. The narrator, actor Ben Stein, raises the academic freedom argument in the film. (“Coming Soon: Movie Backs ‘Intelligent Design’,” Feb. 27, 2008.)
A version of this article appeared in the March 26, 2008 edition of Education Week