In recent years, most state-level legislative attacks on evolution have taken the form of "academic freedom" bills, which permit — but do not require — teachers and students to introduce creationist material into science classes. Because these bills are permissive rather than prescriptive, they may have a better chance of surviving judicial scrutiny than has past antievolution legislation.
There are two main strains of "academic freedom" bills. The first mandates that teachers be able to discuss "the full range of scientific views regarding biological and chemical evolution," and offers students "protection for subscribing to a particular position on views regarding biological or chemical evolution." Bills of this strain typically also include unsubstantiated claims of widespread persecution of teachers and students who criticize evolution. The Discovery Institute’s "Model Academic Freedom Statute on Evolution" is of this form.
The second strain does not purport to be concerned with student rights, and cites the need to help students develop "critical thinking skills" on "controversial issues." To this end, it permits teachers to discuss "the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories." The listed "theories" often cover several topics of concern to the religious right: primarily evolution and abiogenesis, but also global warming, human cloning and stem cell research. One example of this strain is 2008’s Louisiana Science Education Act.
From 2004 to spring 2011, at least forty such bills have been filed in 13 states. However, only the Louisiana Science Education Act has so far been signed into law.
This section of our website provides information on the texts, history and current legislative status of "academic freedom" bills.
|Year||State||Bill #||Bill Title||Current Status|
|2004||AL||HB 391||Academic Freedom Act||Indefinitely postponed in House; legislative session ended|
|2004||AL||SB 336||Academic Freedom Act||Indefinitely postponed in House; legislative session ended|
|2005||AL||HB352||Academic Freedom Act||Indefinitely postponed in House; legislative session ended|
|2005||AL||SB240||Academic Freedom Act||Indefinitely postponed in Senate committee; legislative session ended|
|2005||AL||HB716||Academic Freedom Act||No committee action before legislative session ended|
|2006||OK||HB2107||Academic Freedom Act||Passed by House; No Senate committee action before end of leglative session|
|2006||AL||HB106||Academic Freedom Act||No committee action before legislative session ended|
|2006||AL||SB45||Academic Freedom Act||Indefinitely postponed on Senate floor; legislative session ended|
|2006||OK||SB1959||Academic Freedom Act||No committee action before end of legislative session|
|2006||MD||HB 1531||Academic Freedom Act||Failed in Ways and Means Committee|
|2007||MO||HB469||Amendment removed same day; legislative session ended with bill still in Senate|
|2007||NM||SB 371||Postponed indefinitely in committee; legislative session ended|
|2007||NM||HB 506||Postponed indefinitely in committee; legislative session ended|
|2008||FL||SB 2692||Academic Freedom Act/Evolution Academic Freedom Act||Senate & House could not reconcile versions before legislative session ended|
|2008||Model||DI Model||Model Academic Freedom Statute on Evolution||Widely circulated|
|2008||FL||HB 1483||Died in House when SB 2692 was substituted|
|2008||LA||SB 561 / SB 733||Louisiana Academic Freedom Act/Louisiana Science Education Act||Passed|
|2008||MO||HB2554||Legislative session ended with bill on floor of House|
|2008||LA||HB 1168||Louisiana Academic Freedom Act||No committee action before legislative session ended|
|2008||AL||HB923||Academic Freedom Act||Indefinitely postponed in House committee; legislative session ended|
|2008||MI||HB 6027||Academic Freedom Law||No committee action before legislative session ended|
|2008||MI||SB 1361||Academic Freedom Law||No committee action before legislative session ended|
|2008||SC||S 1386||No committee action before legislative session ended|
|2009||NM||SB433||Committee took no action before legislative session ended|
|2009||OK||SB320||Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act||Failed in Education Committee|
|2009||AL||HB300||Academic Freedom Act||No action taken in the committee on Education Policy before legislative session ended|
|2009||IA||HF 183||Evolution Academic Freedom Act||No committee action; legislative session ended|
|2009||MO||HB656||No action in House before legislative session ended.|
|2009||TX||HB 4224||No committee action; legislative session ended|
|2009||SC||S 873||Referred to Senate Committee on Education, no committee action by end of legislative session|
|2009||SC||S 875||Referred to Senate Committee on Education, no committee action by end of legislative session.|
|2011||KY||HB169||AN ACT relating to science education and intellectual freedom.||Assigned to Education committee Jan. 5; legislative session ended without action|
|2011||MO||HB195||Academic Freedom to Teach Scientific Evidence Regarding Evolution||Received second reading, 1/18 Referred to Elementary and Secondary Education committee, 4/12|
|2011||NM||HB302||Protection from certain scientific topics||Assigned to House Education committee, tabled in committee 2/18; Died in commitee, 3/18|
|2011||OK||SB554||none; includes standard AFA language and language from Texas science standards to||Died in committee|
|2011||OK||HB4224||Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act||Tabled in House Education committee, February 23, 2011|
|2011||TN||HB368||none, "protects a teacher from discipline for teaching scientific subjects in an objective manner"||Assigned to House Education committee, subcommittee hearings on 2/23, 3/2, 3/16 Passed House Education committee, 3/29 Passed Calendar and Rules Committee, 3/31 Passed House, 4/7|
|2011||TN||SB893||none, "protects a teacher from discipline for teaching scientific subjects in an objective manner"||Assigned to General subcommittee of Senate Education committee, on hold until 2012|
|2011||FL||SB1854||none, "requiring that the instructional staff of a public school teach a thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution"||Referred to Education Pre-K - 12 Committee; Budget Committee.|
|2011||TX||HB2454||None, "Prohibiting discrimination by public institutions of higher education against faculty members and students based on their conduct of research relating to intelligent design"||Referred to Higher Education Committee|
|2012||MO||HB 1276||None. "To amend chapter 170, RSMo, by adding thereto one new section relating to teacher academic freedom to teach scientific evidence regarding evolution."||Referred: Elementary and Secondary Education (H) Special Standing Committee on Redistricting(H)|
|2012||MT||HB 183||None. "Emphasize critical thinking in science education"||Died in Standing Committee|
|2013||CO||HB 13-0189||K-12 Academic Freedom Act||Postponed indefinitely by House Committee on Education|
|2013||MO||HB 179||None. "relating to teacher academic freedom to teach scientific evidence regarding evolution."||Died in House Rules Committee|
|2013||OK||SB 758||Providing for the creation of a school environment that encourages the exploration of scientific theories||Died in committee|
|2013||OK||HB 1674||Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act||Dead via missing 3rd reading deadline in house of origin|
|2013||AZ||SB 1213||None. "Science instructions; requirements"||Died in Senate Education Committee|
|2014||VA||HB 207||None, 'to encourage students to explore scientific questions'||Died in Committee|
|2014||MO||HB 1472||None, 'policy allowing parents to remove child(ren) from class when evolution is being taught'||Died in committee|
|2014||MO||HB 1587||None, 'To endeavor to assist teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies.'||Died in House Rules Committee after passing Elementary and Secondary Education Committee|
Just as creationists relabeled creation science following the 1987 Edwards v. Aguillard decision, creationists are currently attempting to promote intelligent design creationism with new catchphrases. ID arguments (themselves merely dandified versions of arguments made by "creation scientists" and earlier generations of creationists) are now being presented under the guise of "critical analysis" or "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution. ID promoters such as Ben Stein in his movie Expelled insist that teachers ought to have "academic freedom" to present such arguments. (For a full rebuttal of Expelled, see NCSE's Expelled Exposed.) Proponents of a creationist bill passed in Louisiana in 2008 used the same argument.
The claims of "academic freedom" are disingenuous for several reasons. The American Association of University Professors, the chief watchdog for academic freedom, defines academic freedom principally in terms of the right of college-level scholars to conduct, publish and discuss research. AAUP has stated its opposition to efforts to teach ID in classrooms, stating recently that "Such efforts run counter to the overwhelming scientific consensus regarding evolution and are inconsistent with a proper understanding of the meaning of academic freedom." And as the AAUP observes, academic freedom does not carry with it the freedom to misinform students, and that is exactly what happens when ID arguments are taught.
Teachers who present creationism (under any name) as science are misinforming their students. ID’s claims about the supernatural fall outside of science, and the arguments presented under the rubric of "critical analysis" or teaching "strengths and weaknesses" are not scientifically credible. For instance, ID promoters advocated that students should be taught about holes in the fossil record of whale evolution. When paleontologists uncovered numerous fossils demonstrating exactly the transitions which ID promoters insisted did not exist, whales disappeared from the ID list of "weaknesses." Nevertheless, opponents of evolution education still advocate teaching students that we do not have a perfect fossil record of, for instance, bat evolution. This is a strategy of teaching students what we don’t know, rather than what we do, and leaves students ill-prepared to learn new information as science progresses.
Teachers have no freedom to misinform and miseducate students. It is scientifically inappropriate and educationally irresponsible to present ID under its own name or in any other guise as scientifically credible. And it is unconstitutional to do so in the public schools.