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"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.