FOR RELEASE MAY 10, 2004
SEATTLE, MAY 10 – The Education Committee of the Alabama House of Representatives recently adopted a substitute version of the Academic Freedom Act on evolution that previously passed the Alabama Senate. The substitute bill limits its protection to teachers who wish to cover “scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views concerning biological or physical origins.” The revised bill also makes clear that it is not intended to promote religion. The House Education Committee voted 9-1 on April 29 to adopt the substitute version of the bill, which now goes to the Alabama House floor for a vote.
While the original version of the bill protected an “affirmative right . . . to present scientific, historical, theoretical, or evidentiary information pertaining to alternative theories . . . on the subject of origins,” the substitute version narrows its protection only to “scientific information” relating to “the full range of scientific views” on biological and chemical evolution.
“The revised bill protects the academic freedom of Alabama teachers and students to discuss scientific rather than religious information about Darwin’s theory,” explains attorney Seth Cooper, program officer for public and legal affairs at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. “It’s important to note that the revised bill protects the rights of all teachers equally–those who want to teach the scientific evidence favoring Darwin’s theory as well as those who want to present scientific evidence critical of the theory. In addition, section 7 of the revised bill clearly states that nothing in the new act ‘shall be construed promoting any religious doctrine.'”
Cooper points out that the revised bill incorporates language from the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) Conference Report as well as the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987). NCLB report language adopted by Congress encourages schools to present the “full range of scientific views” on controversial topics in science education “such as biological evolution.” Edwards v. Aguillard, meanwhile, acknowledged that it is constitutionally permissible to teach “scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories,” language that is specifically cited in the revised bill .
“Around the country teachers have been punished or even fired for simply trying to present mainstream scientific criticisms about evolutionary theory,” says Cooper. “This bill would make clear that Alabama teachers and students have the right to discuss scientific debates over evolutionary theory free from intimidation and discrimination.”