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Protecting college students from evolution?


House Bill 837, dubbed the Academic Freedom Bill, was introduced in the Florida House of Representatives on February 15, 2005.

The bill is a version of the so-called Academic Bill of Rights (ABR), promoted by conservative political activist David Horowitz, president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education (February 13, 2004), the ABR "enumerates several principles that colleges should follow, among which is that they should foster a variety of political and religious beliefs in such areas as making tenure decisions, developing reading lists for courses, and selecting campus speakers." A committee on academic freedom and tenure of the American Association of University Professors describes it as "improper and dangerous," adding, "Not only is the Academic Bill of Rights redundant, but, ironically, it also infringes academic freedom in the very act of purporting to protect it." In discussions of the ABR across the country, the prospect of creationism is usually raised as a reductio ad absurdum by opponents of the ABR.

In Florida, however, the sponsor of HB 837, Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala), was quoted by the University of Florida student newspaper as suggesting that a student could sue under the proposed law if a professor were to say, "Evolution is a fact. I don't want to hear about Intelligent Design ... and if you don't like it, there's the door" (The Independent Florida Alligator, March 23, 2005). The student newspaper at the University of South Florida reported, "The bill's sponsor, Baxley, often cites an undergraduate experience at FSU dealing with evolution as a reason he sponsored this bill. Baxley claims that in 1970 he was subjected to a 'tirade' on evolution being right and creationism being wrong. He says that is a situation that students shouldn't have to be put into" (The Oracle, April 5, 2005).

HB 837 was referred to three committees: the Colleges and Universities Committee, the Choice and Innovation Committee, and the Education Council. It was withdrawn from the first, was approved by the second, and is now (as of April 15) under consideration by the third. Its Senate counterpart, Senate Bill 2126, was introduced in the Florida Senate on March 7 and referred to the Education Committee and the Judiciary Committee; it is now on the agenda of the former.