"Evolution Academic Freedom" bill passes Senate
The Florida Senate has approved legislation that would allow public school teachers "to objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological evolution." The 21-17 vote showed most Democrats opposed and most Republicans in favor.
GOP senators Paula Dockery of Lakeland, Dennis Jones of Seminole, Jim King of Jacksonville, Evelyn Lynn of Ormond Beach and Mike Bennett of Bradenton voted no. Democrat Gary Siplin of Orlando voted yes.
During debate, Democrats saw the bill as a way to get religion into schools, with little to do with science or the standards that the State Board of Education approved earlier this year.
"This bill is not really about evolution. It's not really about academic freedom, either," said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa. "It's about a desire to open up the controversy of teaching creationism in the public schools."
Republicans who spoke rejected that notion. Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said the bill does not either require the teaching of creationism or ban the teaching of evolution. Rather, he said, it opens the door for debate.
"There's nothing wrong with inquiry," Gaetz said. "There's nothing wrong with discussion. That's what this bill does."
Added sponsor Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, "This bill specifically declines to establish a religion. ... We're also not trying to be hostile to a religion. ... This bill is a freedom of speech bill." She read a letter from a Pinellas science teacher who praised her effort to make the teaching of evolution more scientific by allowing more information to be taught than what appears in (sometimes inaccurate) textbooks.
"We are not talking about religion. We are talking about the ability to critically analyze evolution," Storms said. "I daresay a legitimate scientist wouldn't be afraid" of the critical analysis this bill allows.
The Senate version of this legislation differs from the House version, which has yet to win final approval. Storms introduced an amendment to make them the same, but it failed on voice vote.