"Academic freedom" bill clears first House hurdle
The bill that has drawn criticism and praise for its effort to permit Florida teachers to challenge the theory of evolution in the classroom this morning won approval in the first of two House council stops before heading to the House floor.
The proposal - a stripped down version of the similar measure that remains pending in the Senate - passed the Schools and Learning Council along strictly partisan lines. So far, no Republican lawmakers have voted against it.
During the hearing, sponsor Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, offered more generic language than initially proposed, hoping to blunt some of the criticism that the legislation aimed to create a wedge that paves the way for creationism to be taught in science classes. His new bill calls for teachers to have room to critically analyze the theory of evolution without fear of reprisal.
Rep. Marty Kiar, D-Davie, still questioned whether the amended version wouldn't open the door to religion being taught, suggesting an opposing view to evolution clearly is creationism. "I am a staunch, diehard Catholic. But I believe I should get my religion at church," Kiar said. This bill "practically mandates" the teaching of creationism.
"Don't try to read something in there that isn't already there," Hays said. "It's direct and to the point. Any good science theory that is a valid theory should be able to withstand a critical analysis."
Will it prohibit teaching creationism, Kiar countered.
"The Supreme Court has said you can't teach religion in the public schools," Hays responded.
During further discussion, Rep. Shelly Vana, D-Lantana, suggested the bill is unnecessary. A science teacher herself, Vana said good science educators already use the inquiry method to get students to think critically. "Why has evolution then been singled out?" she asked Hays. "Because right now there is no prohibition from doing this."
Hays responded that the goal is to protect teachers who "feel they are threatened if they provide a critical analysis of this theory." Those teachers have been tough to find though, as the Gradebook has noted previously.
Speakers argued for both sides of the equation. Some said the bill would lead to lawsuits and protracted curriculum battles if approved. Others contended it would simply allow teachers to supplement the state standards with other facts they know.
Council members did not debate the measure at length, noting they would have that opportunity if the bill makes it to the floor. They voted 7-4 to move it along, with Republicans chairman Joe Pickens, John Legg, Seth McKeel, Marti Coley, Anitere Flores, Charles McBurney and Thad Altman in favor, and Democrats Kiar, Vana, Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall and Janet Long opposed.
It next heads to the Policy and Budget Council.