Academic Freedom Act
| Insidious legislation|
Teach the controversy
|In your congress|
|Read and despair|
Academic freedom is a pillar of modern institutionalized intellectual inquiry. It is what allows scholars to pursue avenues of interrogation that might be controversial or unpopular without fear of professional consequences. In a prime example of doublespeak, an Academic Freedom Act is a regulation protecting the teaching of demonstrably false, anti-evolutionary, anti-scientific ideas in classrooms, disguised under the label of "academic freedom," "critical thinking," discussing the "full range of scientific views," or teaching the "evidence against evolution." In recent (US) history, such acts have had the goal of providing cover for teachers who wish to teach unorthodox science, usually a form of creationism but also in more recent times including global warming denialism and other hot topics that religious and political conservatives tend to have a grudge against. It can easily be said that these bills are just the newest generation of the religious right's wedge strategy to undermine evolutionary science and promote creationist theology.
These acts "evolved" out of much more blatant pro-creationism/anti-evolution legislation. The abiogenesis of the acts was likely the Santorum Amendment, though unlike future proposed legislation this was at the federal and not state level and did not directly mention the term. The first anti-evolution bill to invoke the idea of academic freedom was Alabama House Bill 391, introduced on February 12, 2004. It was indefinitely postponed in the House, and then the legislative session ended and that was that. The corresponding SB336 was passed by the senate, however.
The first act introduced outside of Alabama was the Oklahoma HB2107 and SB1959 in 2006 - while the former made it through the House, the latter didn't get anywhere before the end of the session. In the same year, the Teachers Academic Freedom Act & Faculty Academic Freedom Act in the Maryland House went nowhere.
On February 7, 2008, the Discovery Institute published their "Model Academic Freedom Statute on Evolution," their favoured version of the act. Like previous acts, this document contains no usage of the words 'Intelligent Design' or 'Creationism', or any other indication of what practises the act would protect. However, it is the first to include reference to both Edwards v. Aguillard and Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. An example of this model acts progeny is Alabama House Bill 300, from 2009, which went nowhere.
Louisiana Academic Freedom Act
The Louisiana Academic Freedom Act (2008) is the only Academic Freedom Act to have been successfully passed. It is of a different lineage to the Discovery Institute's model act, being more closely related to the "Strengths and Weaknesses" acts, though the act does not contain that wording itself. It does not include references to the aforementioned cases, but it does say, when it comes to saying what subjects it covers:
[S]cientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.
This bundles up evolution with a number of other topics to avoid criticisms on the grounds of being 'just another creationism bill', while still explicitly mentioning evolution as being covered. As an added bonus, these other topics (human cloning and global warming) are also subjects that the right are not overly keen on.
- But don't be fooled into thinking that these older bills have died out—take Indiana Senate Bill 89 as an example of this lineage's continued survival.
- Chronology of "Academic Freedom" Bills
- "Academic Freedom" Bills by State & Year
- Oklahoma, 2006
- Maryland, 2006
- Alabama, 2009
- Or, alternatively, "advantages and disadvantages".
- See the text of the act as signed.