Getting liberated from science in Florida’s ‘religious liberties’ bill


The Florida Legislature is back in session, so there’s a whole bunch of fresh hell on its way.

Where to begin?

OK, how about the Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act? It’s something cooked up by Florida’s favorite undertaker/lawmaker Dennis Baxley, who has a long history of thinking that the theory of evolution is overrated.

Back when the Ocala Republican took a break from writing deadly bills like Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, he became the executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida, where he argued that it was unfair for Florida’s impressionable school children to be force-fed a science curriculum that discouraged them from thinking that the Earth is just 6,000 years old, despite the conclusive scientific evidence to the contrary.

“At one time, the scientific community thought that for good health, you should attach leaches to your body,” Baxley reasoned. “We’re just asking them to leave the door open a little bit.”

When it comes to “alternative facts” Baxley was way ahead of his time.

For the most part, the new bill he’s pushing states protections that already exist: That students or teachers can’t be discriminated against based on their “religious viewpoint or religious expression.” And that they can pray and organize religious activities before, during or after the school day to the same extent that secular activities are permitted.

But it also says that “a student may express his or her religious beliefs in coursework, artwork, and other written and oral assignment free from discrimination.”

This is a red flag for the Florida Citizens for Science, a non-profit education group dedicated to the idea that “the proper focus of science education is the study of the natural world through observation, testing and analysis.”

The group’s communication’s director, Brandon Haught, a high school science teacher in Volusia County, wrote about the effects a bill like this might have if it became law.

“Does this allow students to give unscientific religious views as answers on questions about science topics such as age of the earth and evolution?” Haught wrote. “If a teacher tries to explain to the student how the religious answer is unscientific and incorrect, would the teacher be seen as discriminating against the student?”

The guidance on this is murky. The U.S. Department of Education issued guidelines in 2003 that said students should be allowed to submit prayers and other forms of religious expression to fulfill school assignments.

“Thus, if a teacher’s assignment involves writing a poem, the work of a student who submits a poem in the form of a prayer (for example, a psalm) should be judged on the basis of academic standards (such as literary quality) and neither penalized nor rewarded on account of its religious content,” the directive cites as an example.

But in the case of science education, the mystical world of theology sometimes collides with the empirical world of science. It’s not as accommodating as poetry.

And the motives of the legislators involved are clearly more theological than academic.

The House sponsor of Baxley’s bill is newly elected evangelical preacher and self-described “apostle” State Rep. Kim Daniels, a Democrat from Jacksonville. Daniels went on Facebook over the weekend to urge her supporters to join her in a liquids-only fast as a way to prepare for the religious liberties bill.

The new lawmaker got off to a quick start with a 16-minute-long prayer she recorded last month in her car and posted on Facebook. Her rambling steering wheel sermon, among other things, asked that President Donald Trump be protected from “every witch and every warlock” trying to ruin him and the nation.

“America is under siege, God, when it comes to the place where witches are bold enough to come out and declare that they will have authority over who’s the President of the United States,” she said. “I think it’s time for the saints of God to take a radical position, and we send every curse back to the vortexes of Hell where they came from, in the name of Jesus.”

How do you grade that on an exam? No wonder why the science teachers are antsy.

When religious zealots start meddling with science education, it tends to be more about academic disregard than academic freedom.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Coast Guard encountered more than 1,200 boats during Trump’s 2017 stays
Coast Guard encountered more than 1,200 boats during Trump’s 2017 stays

More than 1,200 boaters off Palm Beach County had their day interrupted earlier this year by an encounter with a Coast Guard boat letting them know they’d gotten a little too close to the president of the United States. As President Trump returned to South Florida on Tuesday evening for the long Thanksgiving weekend, the first of potentially...
Trump in Palm Beach: President headed to golf course
Trump in Palm Beach: President headed to golf course

President Trump and his wife Melania and son Barron arrived at Palm Beach International Airport about 5:45 p.m. Tuesday to begin their Thanksgiving holiday. We don’t yet know what is on the President’s schedule today or when the rest of the First Family will arrive in Palm Beach. Check back for updates throughout the day. 9:30 a.m...
It’s a real headache correcting ‘Tampon Tax’ in red-state Florida
It’s a real headache correcting ‘Tampon Tax’ in red-state Florida

Normally, the email bulletins sent from the Florida Department of Revenue are dry and uninspiring. You have to be a tax wonk to care. And even then, maybe not. Recently, the department has issued guidance on such topics as: “Payments for the Purchase and Lease of Items Used for the Operation or Maintenance of a Municipally-Owned Golf Course&rdquo...
NEW: Defense says Austin Harrouff’s ‘Dr. Phil’ interview tapes incomplete
NEW: Defense says Austin Harrouff’s ‘Dr. Phil’ interview tapes incomplete

The defense attorneys for Austin Harrouff, the 20-year-old Jupiter man charged with killing two people and biting one of their faces in Martin County last year, say that the interviews between their client and TV’s Dr. Phil McGraw that have been provided to the court are not complete, according to court records. Attorney Nellie King wrote in...
JUST IN: Boynton man gets 5-year sentence for running over girlfriend
JUST IN: Boynton man gets 5-year sentence for running over girlfriend

A man who Boynton Beach police say knocked his live-in girlfriend unconscious and rolled his car over her in 2016 has been sentenced to five years in prison, court records show. Joseph Anthony Costa, 39, who originally was charged with attempted first-degree murder, pleaded guilty to attempted second-degree murder, as well a second charge of domestic...
More Stories