"Expelled" can't be expelled?
And now for yet another development in the evolution debate …
The director of a Tallahassee science center said today that the center had no choice but to allow a group to rent the facility for an upcoming showing of the movie "Expelled" – which many scientists consider to be anti-science – to members of the Florida Legislature.
Challenger Center Director Norman Thagard (left) told The Gradebook this afternoon that the center was not in any way endorsing the movie, and that not allowing its IMAX movie center to be rented for the showing of "Expelled" could open the door to a discrimination lawsuit. "I just don't want the center to be portrayed as sponsoring this," Thagard said. "We're just allowing our facilities to be used per our policies."
The Challenger Center in downtown Tallahassee is an educational outreach facility for the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, where Thagard, a former astronaut, is a tenured professor. "Expelled" is a new documentary by Ben Stein that posits that "educators and scientists are being ridiculed, denied tenure and even fired – for the 'crime' of merely believing that there might be evidence of 'design' in nature."
The showing in Tallahassee comes as the Legislature is set to consider "academic freedom" bills that would allow teachers to veer from new science standards passed last month by the state Board of Education.
The connections here were first reported late Friday night on the Florida Citizens for Science blog, which had obtained an email from Rep. Alan Hays (right), R-Umatilla (the House sponsor of the academic freedom bill), inviting member of the Legislature to "an exclusive pre-screening to be held by Motive Entertainment" at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Motive is marketing the movie. And given the Challenger Center's scientific bona fides, the disclosure promptly led to criticisms like this one on the FCS blog: "That Florida State or FAMU should essentially be allowing facilities they've created to be used by Creationists in order to push propaganda in an effort to influence legislators to vote against improved education is outrageous." Some have compared the situation to a 2005 flap involving the Smithsonian and "The Privileged Planet," a movie supported by intelligent design proponents at the Discovery Institute.
Thagard said Motive asked to rent the facility last week, and was granted permission. He said the Challenger Center allows its facilities to be rented for screenings as long as the movies are not pornographic, excessively violent or in violation of the law. "We can't say person A or group A can rent, and group B can't, without getting involved in lawsuits," he said.
After complaints arose about "Expelled," Thagard said he ran the issue past the FSU legal department "to make sure we had not anything wrong." He also said any chatter suggesting legislative arm-twisting is "nonsense."
- Ron Matus, state education reporter