"Alternative Theories" Legislation — Again

On February 8, 2005, a pair of bills — House Bill 352 and Senate Bill 240 — was introduced in the Alabama legislature, under the rubric of "The Academic Freedom Act." Virtually identical, these bills purport to protect the right of teachers "to present scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories" and the right of students to "hold positions regarding scientific views." In language reminiscent of the Santorum language removed from the No Child Left Behind Act, they specify that "[t]he rights and privileges contained in this act apply when topics are taught that may generate controversy, such as biological or chemical origins." Presumably attempting to avert the charge that their provisions would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the bills also state that "Nothing in this act shall be construed as promoting any religious doctrine, promoting discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promoting discrimination for or against religion or non-religion." SB 240 was referred to the Senate Committee on Constitution, Campaign Financial, Ethics, and Elections, while HB 352 was referred to the House Committee on Education.

In February 2004, a similar pair of bills — HB 391 and SB 336 — was introduced in the Alabama legislature, with significant overlap in the sponsorship list: Representative Jim Carns (R-District 48) was the sole sponsor of HB 391 and HB 352, and Senators Henry E. Erwin (R-District 12) and Wendell Mitchell (D-District 30) sponsored both SB 336 and SB 240. In 2004, Mitchell reportedly defended SB 336 by saying, "I think there is a tremendous ill-balance in the classroom when you can't discuss all viewpoints. This bill will level the playing field because it allows a teacher to bring forward the biblical creation story of humankind," although he later commented, "We are trying to take every step we can to ensure that the people who are operating under this legislation are not challenged on the idea it is a religious effort." SB 336 was passed by unanimous votes of the Senate Education Committee and the full Senate in 2004, and by a 9-1 vote of the House Education Committee; although the bill was on the agenda for the final day of the legislature's session, the legislature adjourned without considering it. For details, see NCSE's story.

The grand total of antievolution bills for 2005 now reaches seven: in addition to Alabama's HB 352 and SB 240, there were bills introduced in Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, and South Carolina (now, happily, defanged).


SB240
By Senators Mitchell and Erwin
RFD Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics, and Elections
Rd 1 08-FEB-05

SYNOPSIS: Existing law does not expressly provide a right to, nor does it expressly protect, tenure and employment for a public school teacher or a teacher at an institution of higher education for presenting scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views. In addition, students are not expressly provided a right to a position on scientific views.
This bill would expressly provide rights and protection for teachers and students concerning their position on scientific views.

A BILL
TO BE ENTITLED
AN ACT

Providing teacher rights and protection for a public school teacher or teacher at an institution of higher education to present scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views in applicable curricula or in a course of learning; providing employment and tenure protection and protection against discrimination for any public school teacher or teacher at a public institution of higher education related to the presentation of such information; and providing student protection for subscribing to a particular position on scientific views.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF ALABAMA:

Section 1. This law shall be know as the "Academic Freedom Act."

Section 2. The Legislature finds that existing law does not expressly protect the right of teachers identified by the United States Supreme Court in Edwards v. Aguillard to present scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories. The Legislature further finds that existing law does not expressly protect the right of students to hold positions regarding scientific views. It is the intent of the Legislature that this act expressly protects those rights.

Section 3. Every K-12 public school teacher or teacher or instructor in any two-year or four-year public institution of higher education, or in any graduate or adult program thereof, in the State of Alabama, shall have the affirmative right and freedom to present scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views in any curricula or course of learning.

Section 4. No K-12 public school teacher or teacher or instructor in any two-year or four-year public institution of higher education, or in any graduate or adult program thereof, in the State of Alabama, shall be terminated, disciplined, denied tenure, or otherwise discriminated against for presenting scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views in any curricula or course of learning.

Section 5. Students may be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials, but no student, in any public school or institution of higher education, shall be penalized in any way because he or she may subscribe to a particular position on scientific views.

Section 6. The rights and privileges contained in this act apply when topics are taught that may generate controversy, such as biological or chemical origins. Nothing in this act shall be construed as requiring or encouraging any change in the state curriculum standards in K-12 public schools, nor shall any provision of this act be construed as prescribing the curricular content of any course in any two-year or four-year public institution of higher education in the state.

Section 7. Nothing in this act shall be construed as promoting any religious doctrine, promoting discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promoting discrimination for or against religion or non-religion.

Section 8. This act shall become effective on the first day of the third month following its passage and approval by the Governor, or its otherwise becoming law.