"Academic Freedom" Legislation

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.

Chronology of "Academic Freedom" Bills

Year State Bill # Bill Title Current Status
1922 SC NA - General Appropriations Bill Amendment NA- General Appropriations Bill Amendment, Item 11, Section 18 Dead
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 HB 1674 Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act Dead via missing 3rd reading deadline in house of origin
2013 OK SB 758 Providing for the creation of a school environment that encourages the exploration of scientific theories Died in committee
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

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"Academic Freedom" Bills by State & Year

Academic Freedom

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.