They are based largely upon language drafted by the Discovery Institute, hub of the intelligent design movement, and derive from language originally drafted for the Santorum Amendment, in the United States Senate. As of June 2008, only the Louisiana bill has been successfully been passed into law.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the common goal of these bills is to expose more students to articles and videos that undercut evolution, most of which are produced by advocates of intelligent design or Biblical creationism.
In 2001 former Republican United States Senator Rick Santorum from Pennsylvania proposed an amendment, to the education funding bill which became known as the No Child Left Behind Act, which promoted the teaching of intelligent design while questioning the academic standing of evolution in U.S. public schools. The language of this amendment was crafted in part by the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture,, with Phillip E. Johnson, founding advisor of the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, and "father" of the intelligent design movement, assisting Santorum in phrasing the amendment. It wrongly portrayed evolution as generating "much continuing controversy" and being not widely accepted, using the Discovery Institute's Teach The Controversy method.
On June 14, 2001, the amendment was passed as part of the education funding bill by the Senate on a vote of 91-8. This was hailed as a major victory by proponents of intelligent design and other creationists; for instance an email newsletter by the Discovery Institute contained the sentence "Undoubtedly this will change the face of the debate over the theories of evolution and intelligent design in America...It also seems that the Darwinian monopoly on public science education, and perhaps the biological sciences in general, is ending."
Scientists and educators feared that by singling out biological evolution as very controversial, the amendment could create the impression that a substantial scientific controversy about evolution exists, leading to a lessening of academic rigor in science curricula. A coalition of 96 scientific and educational organizations signed a letter to this effect to the conference committee, urging that the amendment be stricken from the final bill, which it was, but intelligent design supporters on the conference committee preserved it in the bill's legislative history.
While the amendment did not become law, a version of it appears in the Conference Report as an explanatory text about the legislative history and purposes of the bill. Such a report may be taken into account if courts later need to consider the intent of the bill, but it has no legal force per se.
Tom Hutton, a senior staff lawyer for the National School Boards Association, stated that while state legislators have a legal right to craft laws that affect districts’ policies as a general rule, he believes that some decisions are better left to local officials. He further suggested that these proposed bills, if enacted, could face difficult legal challenges. He further stated that despite their language stating that they are not promoting religious views, and wording to promote "scientific" rather than religious critiques, courts are likely to question the motives behind these bills, and their specific focus on evolution, and draw a conclusion as to "what’s going on here."
Michael Simpson, a lawyer for the National Education Association stated that courts have generally refused to afford significant free-speech protections to teachers for in-class remarks. He further offered the opinion that the legality of these measures would depend on a number of unknowns, such as how the critical views of evolution-critical views were presented, and possibly the degree of congruence between them and other state policies, such as state science curriculum.
Ed Brayton described the bills as promoting intelligent design: "allow teachers to bring in all of the arguments against evolution made by the ID movement without actually calling it ID."
On April 8 2004, the Alabama Senate unanimously passed SB336, the "Academic Freedom Act." The bill would have given teachers at public institutions "the affirmative right and freedom to present scientific, historical, theoretical, or evidentiary information pertaining to alternative theories or points of view on the subject of origins" and gives students the right to hold a "particular position on origins, so long as he or she demonstrates acceptable understanding of course materials." Before passage, it was amended so that "[t]he rights and privileges contained in this act do not apply to the presentation of theoretical information unless it is accompanied by scientific, historical, or evidentiary information." On May 17 2004, the Alabama House adjourned the 2004 legislative session without voting on the bill, allowing it to lapse.
On February 8, 2005, a pair of virtually identical bills were simultaneously introduced in the Alabama Senate and House (HB352 and SB240), again under the description of "The Academic Freedom Act." These bills purported to protect the right of teachers "to present scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories" and the right of students to "hold positions regarding scientific views", using language reminiscent of the Santorum Amendent. In an attempt to avert Establishment Clause concerns, the bills both stated that "[n]othing in this act shall be construed as promoting any religious doctrine, promoting discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promoting discrimination for or against religion or non-religion. On April 5, 2005, a third, near-identical bill (also dubbed the "Academic Freedom Act") was introduced in the Alabama House (HB 716). On May 3, 2005, the legislative session closed without passing any of these three bills, so that they lapsed.
On January 10, 2006, another pair of identical bills (HB106 and SB45), closely resembling the previous antievolution bills, were again introduced in the Alabama legislature, again under the description of "The Academic Freedom Act". On April 18, 2006 the Alabama Legislature again adjourned without passing them, again allowing them to lapse.
On April 24, 2008, David Grimes introduced an 'Academic Freedom' bill (HB 923) into the Alabama House and it was referred to the Education Policy Committee. The bill died, along with hundreds of others, with the end of the legislative session in the first week in May.
The petition website also offers a 'Model Academic Freedom Statute on Evolution', and lists Casey Luskin, program officer for public policy and legal affairs at Discovery Institute, as the contact person for questions on it.
Pre-release screenings for legislators of the controversial film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which portrays proponents of intelligent design as being "persecuted", have been presented by actor Ben Stein. There were special showings for Florida and Missouri legislators in support of Academic Freedom bills in those states.
The Florida showing was at the invitation of that Florida bill's House sponsor, Representative Alan Hays, on March 12, 2008. It was a private screening restricted to legislators, their spouses, and their legislative aides. The press and public were excluded, and when the House general counsel was asked if that was legal under the Florida sunshine law he stated that it was technically legal as long as they just watched the film without discussing the issue or arranging any future votes. Commenting on this, and the controversy over Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel previously managing to view the film against the wishes of the film company, House Democratic leader Dan Gelber of Miami Beach stated, "It's kind of an irony: The public is expelled from a movie called Expelled." The screening was attended by about 100 people, but few were legislators, and the majority of legislators stayed away.
Shortly before the film was released on April 18, 2008, the producer of the film, Walt Ruloff, held a press conference on April 15 at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.. Ruloff announced his plans to use the Expelled film as part of a campaign to pass academic freedom bills in a variety of American states.
On 29 February 2008, Senator Ronda Storms introduced an Academic Freedom bill (SB2692) in the Florida Senate targeting teaching of evolution, which closely resembles both the Discovery Institute (DI) model statute and the previous Alabama bills. Its sponsor in the Florida House of Representatives (as HB1483) was Representative Alan Hays, who claimed that the bill was simply drafted to allow teachers and students to discuss "the full range" of problems and ideas surrounding Darwin's theory without fear of punishment, but he and Storms were both unable to name any teachers in Florida who have been disciplined for being critical of evolution in the science classroom. Hays stated "I want a balanced policy. I want students taught how to think, not what to think. There are problems with evolution. Have you ever seen a half-monkey, half human?" DI attorney Casey Luskin's statement at a press conference supporting the bill that, in his personal opinion, Intelligent Design constitutes "scientific information" (which the bill explicitly permits) was taken by the Miami Herald as an admission that "Intelligent Design could more easily be brought up in public-school science classrooms" under the proposed law. The American Civil Liberties Union also expressed concerns that these bills might make it easier to teach intelligent design as science in public schools.
The Senate bill was later amended to define "scientific information" as "germane current facts, data, and peer-reviewed research specific to the topic of chemical and biological evolution as prescribed in Florida's Science Standards. Storms refused to answer repeated direct questions from senate Democrats as to whether teachers would be permitted to teach Intelligent design under her bill and whether she believes that intelligent design meets its criteria for 'scientific information'. The bill has also been criticised for its inconsistency in only protecting the freedom of teachers to discuss anti-evolution arguments, but not other controversies (such as birth control and abortion), but when Democrats introduced a proposal to have the bill's protection extended to sex-education Storms had it voted down. The House bill underwent substantial modification and, as amended, requires "Critical Analysis of Evolution" to be taught. An attempt by Senator Storms to ease the bill's passage by substituting the heavily amended House version failed to win acceptance in the Senate, leaving two incompatible bills, which died with the end of the legislative session on May 2.
Liam Julian, a research fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution and editor for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute (which advocates and researches education reform), lists a number of reasons why the bill is "a lousy idea for Florida's students and schools":
Nevers states that he was asked to sponsor the bill by the LFF, and that it should not be considered a creationism measure because it would pave the way for theories that also challenge opinions on global warming, human cloning and other topics. Gene Mills, executive director of the Louisiana Family Forum, stated that a bill is needed that makes it easier for teachers to delve into criticism of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. However in introducing the LFF-suggested bill he also stated that the LFF "believe that scientific data related to creationism should be discussed when dealing with Darwin's theory. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State described the bill as "all about God in biology class".
On 21 April 2008 Representative Frank Hoffman, who was the assistant superintendent of the Ouachita Parish school system at time it adopted the LFF-backed policy, introduced an identical bill into the Louisiana House of Representatives (HB1168). On 22 April 2008, references to evolution, global warming and other subjects were stripped from the senate bill and replaced with calls for more general changes in science classes, and it was renamed the "Louisiana Science Education Act" (and renumbered SB733), and was passed unanimously on April 28, 2008. On 11 June 2008 the House bill was passed by a vote of 94-3. In response, Americans United noted that Louisiana legislators have repeatedly tried to water down the teaching of evolution, with previous attempts having been deemed unconstiutional by the Supreme Court of the United States, and suggest that this legislation "opens the door to teaching creationism in public schools, an action that is likely to spark litigation".
On 12 June 2008, the day after the House bill passed, "concerned parents, teachers and scientists" formed Louisiana Coalition for Science, "[i]n response to numerous attacks on science education in the Bayou State". Founding members include prominent historian and critic of the intelligent design movement Barbara Forrest, veteran biology teacher Patsye Peebles, and Presbyterian minister Betsy Irvine.
In late June 2008 Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal signed the bill into law.
Conservative commentator (and frequent critic of Intelligent Design) John Derbyshire described the likely effects of the law as:
The legislation has been criticised by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, with the latter calling for its repeal.
The National Center for Science Education described it as another "so-called 'academic freedom' bill aimed at undermining the teaching of evolution".
Jim Foster, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, disputed the need for the bill:
The bill died in committee when the South Carolina legislature adjourned on June 5, 2008.
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