Academic Freedom Bill Sweeps through La. House

The Louisiana House of Representatives voted 94-3 Wednesday to pass a bill that would grant teachers and students the freedom to challenge and examine critically the tenets of Darwinism in the classroom.

The measure, which is expected to cruise easily through the upper house, is the latest measure in a series of "Academic Freedom" bills that have swept across several states, including Missouri, Alabama, and Michigan. A similar measure was also under review in Florida earlier this year before stalling in the state's legislature.

Lawmakers say that the efforts to pass the bills are a response to allegations that teachers and students who share views contradicting or challenging the tenets of Darwinism in the classroom are marginalized, discriminated, or ostracized.

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Louisiana's version of the bill, the "Science Education Act," will help to supply teachers with supplementary textbooks that will give greater freedom in the classroom to analyze and critique existing scientific theories concerning evolution.

Supporters of the bill said that the measure would be an important step in securing safe academic environments where "critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories" would be welcome.

"This bill promotes good science education by protecting the academic freedom of science teachers," said Dr. John West, Vice President for Public Policy and Legal Affairs at Discovery Institute, in a statement.

Detractors of the bill, however, claim that the recent measure is nothing more than a masked agenda to install religion in schools.

In a statement, Americans United said that it would not rule out legal action against the bill on the grounds of violating the separation of church and state.

"Americans United and other groups contend that [the] 'supplemental materials' (textbooks) are likely to be anti-evolution books, DVDs and other items produced by fundamentalist Christian ministries," the group said.

"The measure is being pushed by the Louisiana Family Forum, the Discovery Institute and other Religious Right forces," the group added.

West, however, denies this assertion, noting that the language of the bill is clear, objective, and fair.

"Critics who claim the bill promotes religion instead of science either haven't read the bill or are putting up a smokescreen to divert attention from the censorship that has been going on," he said.

"The proposed Louisiana law expressly states in Section 1C that it 'shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion,'" he continued.

"Americans United conveniently neglects to mention that section of the bill," he said.
In total, at least six states have considered passing "Academic Freedom" legislation this year, according to the Discovery Institute.

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