The persecution problem
The "academic freedom" bills filed by Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, and Rep. D. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, make a sweeping claim: "The Legislature finds that in many instances educators have experienced or feared discipline, discrimination, or other adverse consequences as a result of presenting the full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological evolution."
Is that true in Florida? Is there a widespread problem?
Hays (left) told The Gradebook he wasn't sure, and said the bill language might have to be tweaked. One prominent supporter wasn’t sure either. Christian activist Terry Kemple of Brandon said the bill is needed to keep teachers who don't march in lock step on evolution from being blackballed. But when asked for examples, both Hays and Kemple cited the same two teachers – one retired (Robin Brown) and one current (David Brackin), both of whom addressed the Board of Education before the Feb. 19 vote. (To see Brown and Brackin’s statements, click here and here.)
"They said they're not the only ones," Kemple said. And like some of the academics in "Expelled," the upcoming Ben Stein movie, he suspected many of them might be too afraid to speak up.
If surveys are to be believed, though, most of the evolution-related pressure being put on science teachers is aimed at those who want to teach the scientific consensus about evolution, not those who want to teach the "full range of scientific views" – which would presumably include the fringe notion that evolution is not backed by strong evidence. A 2005 survey by the National Science Teachers Association, for example, found nearly a third of teachers who responded felt pressure to de-emphasize evolution or teach faith-based alternatives because they feared a religion-driven backlash from parents (see a St. Petersburg Times story that touches on that issue here.)
Other surveys suggest a significant minority of biology teachers are creationists, and/or believe creationism is scientifically valid (see previous Gradebook post here). But supporters of the academic freedom bill have said, repeatedly, that they are not seeking inclusion of creationism, or intelligent design, or any other faith-based theory into science classes. It appears, then, that those teachers would not be protected by the bill.
So where are all the teachers who would be? "Frankly, I don’t know," Hays said. But "it doesn't make a difference to me if it's four teachers in the whole state who were harassed … We want the teachers to be able to teach the full scope (of evolution) without fear."
"You and I both know there are holes in Darwin's theory. No one yet has found a half-animal of this or a half-insect of that," Hays continued. "And they certainly haven't found any half ape and half man."
- Ron Matus, state education reporter