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By Barbara Forrest

The title of this post may sound strange. But read on, and you will see that there is more backbone in a minority of the members of the Florida legislature than in the entire Louisiana legislature. Just as it was doing in Louisiana, the Discovery Institute, a creationist think tank in Seattle, was maneuvering in Florida to get its academic freedom (read: “stealth creationism”) legislation passed in the state of Florida in 2008. But the outcome in Florida was very different than the outcome in Louisiana. On February 29, 2008, a Discovery Institute “academic freedom” bill was introduced in the Florida Senate by Sen. Ronda Storms. That bill, SB 2962, passed. On March 4, a companion bill, HB 1483, was introduced in the House by Rep. Alan Hays. It also passed. In April, as the National Center for Science Education reported, “The antievolution bills — the so-called Academic Freedom Acts — in Florida are progressing, despite protests from teachers, scientists, and the Florida ACLU, and despite the criticisms of the legislature’s own staff.” By April 28, however, there was some doubt as to whether creationists in the Florida legislature could reconcile their own differences in time to get the bill passed before the legislature adjourned on May 2. They did not, and the legislation died. In 2009, creationists in the Florida legislature made another attempt at getting academic freedom legislation passed, but SB 2396 fortunately did not even get to the floor, and the bill died in committee. (See the excellent Florida Citizens for Science website.)

Florida seems to have learned its lesson (for the time being). The notable thing about Florida, however, was the vocal resistance to these creationist bills by Florida legislators on the debate floor of the House and Senate in 2008. (See videos below.) There was no such resistance on the floor of the Louisiana House and Senate when the Louisiana Science Education Act (LEA) was making its way through the legislature at exactly the same time as the Florida bills. In fact, where the Louisiana legislature is concerned, except for three “no” votes (pdf) in the House (which the three legislators cast without comment), there was no resistance at all.

The Florida Senate

Sen. Storms spearheaded the effort in the Florida Senate. In the video below, you will see her and a colleague, Sen. Don Gaetz, arguing for passage of the bill on the Senate floor, regurgitating the Discovery Institute’s code-language talking points. Notice that they were defending “critical analysis” in science classes. Sound familiar? Sen. Stephen Wise, another creationist representative (who sponsored the unsuccessful 2009 bill), tells his colleagues that “I just urge ya” to support the bill so that students and teachers could discuss “both sides” of the issue. Sound familiar? But you will also see Sen. Arthenia Joyner pointing out that the bill would permit introducing creationism into science classes. You will see Sen. Frederica Wilson pointing out that the bill promoted religion. Sen. Steven Geller also points out that the bill was intended to permit the teaching of intelligent design while deliberately avoiding the term “intelligent design.” Watch for yourself (2:44).

 

 

The Florida House of Representatives

Debate in the Florida House of Representatives was much the same. Discovery Institute shills repeated DI’s talking points. However, several legislators cut right through them, as you will see in the video below. You will see (at :37) Rep. Geraldine Thompson catch Rep. Hays in a lie about his bill (either he was lying or had not read his own bill). When she questioned Rep. Hays about a section of the bill that allowed students to skirt “normal testing procedures” by escaping penalties in their schoolwork for “subscribing to a particular position or view regarding biological or chemical evolution” — in other words, allowing students to write on their exams “what they believe rather than what they have been taught by their instructors” — Hays denied that this was in the amended bill. However, some minutes later, Rep. Thompson read from the engrossed bill that contained all the amendments, and, sure enough, that exemption was included. Hays, a retired dentist (shades of Texas?), should have known better than to lie to a retired college administrator and teacher whose hobby is historical research.

Later, when challenged again by another House colleague, Hays defended the bill as enabling students to engage in — here it comes! — “critical analysis” on this “lightning-rod issue.” Hays tried to fend off additional challenges from other House members. Finally, in a fit of exasperation, he fulminated on the House floor:

It’s very difficult for me to speak any more plainly than I’ve already spoken. But what this bill does is tells the teacher to go ahead and teach the theory of evolution and make sure that your students have a complete view of that theory, and [that] they know that it is only a theory. It is not gospel law. It . . . it . . . there’s no proof that any species has transitioned from one thing to another. No people have ever come from tadpoles. . . .

Hays got the rejoinder he deserved from Rep. Keith Fitzgerald (a college professor):

The sponsor of this bill told us the other day that there’s no evidence of evolution turning a fly into a monkey. But this bill shows definitively that bad bills can turn legislators into monkeys. . . .

Rep. Audrey Gibson (whose hobbies, quite appropriately, include weight training) then threw a punch of her own:

The difficulty that I have with this bill is that the sponsor seems not even to know what the definition of ‘critical analysis’ is. Well, if you can’t define a thing, then how in the world can you legislate it?

BINGO!

Hays faced similar challenges from other colleagues, Rep. Elaine Schwartz and Rep. Mary Brandenburg, who recognized full well what this law would do to Florida science education. Watch and enjoy (9:24).

 

Lagniappe

As lagniappe (a Louisiana word for “a little extra”), below is another video (3:22) in which Rep. Hays lies again, this time about Expelled, a Discovery Institute pro-intelligent design propaganda film that Hays, speaking from the House floor, urged his colleagues to see. Its release in Florida was timed to coincide with the legislative session — as it had been in Louisiana, but with little public awareness of it here. (Aside: Rotten Tomatoes says, “Full of patronizing, poorly structured arguments, Expelled is a cynical political stunt in the guise of a documentary.” The Internet Movie Database gave it a 3.7/10 rating. MSNBC called it “far worse than stupid.” For a real treat, read movie critic Roger Ebert’s review: “This film is cheerfully ignorant, manipulative, slanted, cherry-picks quotations, draws unwarranted conclusions, makes outrageous juxtapositions (Soviet marching troops representing opponents of ID), pussy-foots around religion (not a single identified believer among the ID people), segues between quotes that are not about the same thing, tells bald-faced lies, and makes a completely baseless association between freedom of speech and freedom to teach religion in a university class that is not about religion.”) Hays was confronted about the film by Rep. Fitzgerald: “This movie you’re talking about — is this not about being able to teach intelligent design in the schools, which you just said, in response to Rep. Gelber, is not what you’re trying to do with this bill?” Here is Hays’ reply:

No, it’s not about teaching intelligent design. It’s a documentary.

 

 

The same word that Judge John E. Jones III used to describe some of the defense testimony in Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District (2005) applies here: Rep. Hays’ reply was an exercise in mendacity. Only a few weeks earlier, Hays had sponsored a news conference (seen in the video above) featuring Ben Stein, the star and narrator of Expelled. Standing right behind Stein in front of the news cameras was Casey Luskin, the Discovery Institute staffer who promotes intelligent design for a living (see Casey’s press conference talking points). (See Little Green Footballs’ post about Casey. See Steve Doocy interviewing Casey on Fox News.) A few weeks later, Casey traveled all the way down to Louisiana to attend the May 21, 2008, House Education Committee hearing on the Louisiana Science Education Act — which our legislators were all too eager to pass. The Florida creationist legislators won the floor votes in the House and Senate, but they apparently couldn’t conquer their own internal disagreements in time to get the bill passed. Moreover, as seen above, they encountered loud, public, determined resistance from other legislators. At one point during, Rep. Hays questioned his fellow legislators:

“My question to you today is, what are you afraid of? Are you afraid that our students are going to learn how to critically analyze a theory? That’s what you seem to be saying. . . .

What Hays was hearing from his House colleagues who spoke out was definitely not fear. It was the sound of legislative backbones straightening up and standing up. We haven’t heard such sounds in Louisiana for . . .  gee, memory fails us here. We know what Louisiana legislators — even the half-way principled ones — were afraid of when the LSEA was coursing through the corridors of the Louisiana State Capitol:  Bobby Jindal. In the 2008 legislative session, when Jindal was newly inaugurated and still on his gubernatorial honeymoon, everyone was afraid to cross him. As it turned out, they apparently had reason to be — see Jeremy Alford, “Bobby Jindal — the Good-bye Guv.”

But with respect to Florida legislators who recognized the “academic freedom” legislation for what it truly was and spoke out against it, the thought of what they might be risking politically certainly did not intimidate them. In light of these Florida legislators’ willingness to publicly defend the teaching of science, we in Louisiana just have to ask:

Couldn’t even one Louisiana legislator have stood up publicly on the debate floor the way these Floridians did? Just one?

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