State-level attacks on the integrity of science education persist as advocates for creationism/intelligent design and socially conservative political agendas pursue “academic freedom” legislation in various state capitols. The campaigns have now spread from the southern United States and into some northern states. Two pieces of “academic freedom” legislation were recently introduced in Alabama and Michigan, which now join Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Missouri among the states facing stealthy assaults on science.
House Bill (HB) 923, the “Academic Freedom Act” was introduced in the Alabama House of Representatives by David Grimes (R-District 73) on 24 April 2008, and referred to the Education Policy Committee. This legislation would allow non-scientific concepts, such as creationism and intelligent design, to be taught as though they represent accepted scientific principles and would require teachers to accept non-scientific explanations for natural phenomena in class assignments. HB 923 specifically singles out evolution by stating, “The rights and privileges contained in this act apply when topics are taught that may generate controversy, such as biological or chemical origins.” The proposal has not yet received a hearing in committee, and the last legislative day for the 2008 session is 19 May 2008.
HB 6027, another “academic freedom” bill, was introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives on 30 April 2008 and was referred to the House Committee on Education. Science education advocates argue that HB 6027, like similar legislation under consideration in Louisiana and Missouri, intends to create questions that do not scientifically exist around the issues of evolution and climate change. Its language emphasizes controversy and the critical analyses of strengths and weaknesses of these well-accepted scientific concepts. Such rhetoric has a long history in the creationism movement and is intended to provide a foothold for the introduction of non-scientific information into the science curriculum. HB 6027 is co-sponsored by John Moolenaar (R-District 98, Midland) who previously co-sponsored legislation that would have encouraged the teaching of "the design hypothesis as an explanation for the origin and diversity of life" in public school science classes.
In Oklahoma, the “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act” (HB 2211) has been resurrected by its supporters in the form of a Senate amendment to HB 2633, an act related to the schools. The legislation in its original form died in the Senate Rules Committee on 2 April 2008 (http://www.aibs.org/public-policy-reports/20080414.html). Science education advocates in Oklahoma report that HB 2633 should pass the House before the legislature’s scheduled adjournment 23 May since HB 2211 originally passed the House by a 71- 25 vote. In anticipation of the legislation arriving on Governor Brad Henry’s desk, AIBS wrote to the Governor expressing serious concern about the amendment and urging him to veto the bill if it contains the onerous provision (http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20080506aibswrites_let.html).
The “Louisiana Science Education Act” (SB 733), formerly the “Louisiana Academic Freedom Act” (SB 561), unanimously passed the Louisiana Senate 28 April 2008. The measure, originally sponsored by state Senator Ben Nevers (D-District 12), is considered by education experts to be “stealth” creationism legislation, intended to create questions that do not exist around evolution and climate change. Prior to passing the Senate Education Committee, the original bill was renamed, renumbered, and “sanitized” by removing “strengths and weaknesses” language and the list of specific scientific topics. Nevers, however, later restored the list of topics, “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning,” to SB 733, and the measure unanimously passed the Senate.
In the House of Representatives, HB 1168, the counterpart to SB 561 and also named the “Louisiana Academic Freedom Act,” was assigned to the House Education Committee.
Fortunately, there is good news to report from Florida. The “Evolution Academic Freedom Act” (HB 1483, SB 2692) died when the Florida legislative session ended 2 May 2008. Despite passing each chamber, a compromise was not reached before the end of the session. These legislative initiatives were introduced in response to the new state science standards approved by the Florida State Board of Education in February that include the term “evolution.” In their original form, the bills sought to “protect the right of teachers to objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding chemical and biological evolution.”
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