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Reactions to the antievolution bill in Florida

Florida organizations concerned about the integrity of science education are expressing their opposition to Senate Bill 1854, which would, if enacted, amend a section of Florida law to require "[a] thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution" in the state's public schools. Introduced in the Florida Senate on March 5, 2011, by Stephen R. Wise (R-District 5), SB 1854 was subsequently referred to the Senate Committee on Education Pre-K-12 — of which Wise is the chair — and to the Senate Budget Committee.

In 2009, before introducing a similar bill, Wise announced his intention to introduce a bill requiring "intelligent design" to be taught in Florida's public schools. Now, discussing SB 1854 with a reporter for the Tampa Tribune (March 13, 2011), he asked, "Why would you not teach both theories at the same time?" According to the Tribune, he was referring to evolution and what he called "non-evolution." Wise further explained, "I think it's a way in which people can have critical thinking ... what we're saying is here's a theory, a theory of evolution, a theory of whatever, and you decide."

"You can have critical analysis of everything, but the idea that you should single out evolution for critical analysis is problematic," NCSE's Joshua Rosenau told the St. Augustine Record (March 17, 2011). "It's recognized by the scientific community as the foundation of modern biology." Rosenau also emphasized that, according to Florida's state science standards, adopted in 2008, "evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all of biology and is supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence."

Howard Simon of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida told the Record, "The mischief that this legislation does is that it tries to entice local county school boards into violating the [C]onstitution," adding, "Wise is trying to entice county school boards and he's putting the liability on them." Simon previously predicted to the Tampa Tribune (March 13, 2011) that his organization would file a lawsuit over the bill "were some county school district to be silly enough to be enticed by the legislation to teach religion instead of science."

Florida Citizens for Science, in a March 13, 2011, press release, expressed its opposition to SB 1854, writing, "it is clearly unnecessary, harmful to science education, and sends a negative message to science-based industries that would otherwise consider setting up shop in our state." Comparing Wise's previous advocacy of "intelligent design" with his present espousal of "non-evolution" or "a theory of whatever," FCFS wondered, "What kind of 'critical analysis' is he really wanting?" and urged Florida's legislators "to send a clear message that sound science education is important to our state."

Similarly, the Florida Academy of Sciences, in a March 11, 2011, statement, expressed its opposition to SB 1854, writing (PDF), "SB 1854, in effect, leaves the door open for the introduction in the public school curriculum of nonscientific and covertly religious doctrines. The proposed bill would be damaging to the quality of science education of Florida’s children and the scientific literacy of our citizens. It would further undermine the reputation of our state and adversely affect our economic future as we try to attract new high tech and biomedical jobs to Florida."

Florida's newspapers have taken heed. Most recently, the Orlando Sentinel (March 18, 2011) editorially observed, "Among scientists, the idea of teaching "nonevolution" in public schools would be dismissed as nonsense. But in Tallahassee, just such a bill sponsored by ... Stephen Wise has its supporters. This is, after all, a state that only three years ago started officially referring to 'evolution' instead of 'biological change over time,'" adding, "Florida has enough challenges getting its kids educated. It doesn't need another one — this one — from Wise."