Alabama Academic Freedom Act


The Discovery Institute has issued a press release about the Alabama “Academic Freedom Act”. As is customary, they applaud the efforts of anti-evolution activists to corrupt American education. This bill seeks to empower any teacher in the state of Alabama “to present scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views concerning biological or physical origins in any curricula or course of learning.”

Before I turn to the press release, I want to address the bill itself. First off, Alabama Citizens for Science Education has both an educational analysis and a legal analysis of an earlier version of the “Academic Freedom Act.” The National Center for Science Education also has information on the legislation.

Now on the question of constitutionality of this law, the Lemon Test–from Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) and modified in Agostini v. Felton (1997)–holds that for a law to satisfy the establishment clause of the US Constitution:

  • It must have a secular purpose; and
  • Its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion.

Criteria to determine if the law’s effect advances religion include:

  • results in governmental indoctrination;
  • defines its recipients by reference to religion; or
  • creates an excessive entanglement between government and religion.

For more information see Prygoski (2002) pp 291-292.

Now the bill raises some questions, which I think help determine its purpose.

  • Why is only a single topic, “origins,” addressed in the bill? Why is it not important to preserve the academic freedom of teachers who what to present scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views concerning the shape of the Earth, the existence of God, or the inferiority of certain ethnicities? Wouldn’t a generic bill be better?
  • Why can any teacher present “scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views concerning … origins in any curricula or course of learning?” Why should an English or PE teacher be empowered to suspend class to lecture on biology? As the bill currently stands, an English teacher could refuse to teach English but instead spend the entire year on “origins” and could not be reprimanded for it.
  • Is a teacher still protected if she mistakenly or intentionally presents pseudo-science as science?
  • If the act truly has a secular purpose, why does it need a disclaimer? “It doth protest too much, methinks.”
  • Why is this bill even needed if Supreme Court precedent already acknowledges that scientific critiques of prevailing theories can be part of public education?

Although this bill might be well intentioned–snicker, laugh, snort–I believe that its primary effect will be to advance religion, specifically the religiously motivated anti-evolutionism promoted by the Discovery Institute, Institute for Creation Research, Answers in Genesis, Creation Science Evangelism, Focus on the Family, etc. The bill is not motivated by a desire to improve the Alabama’s education system, or it would not contain the serious academic flaws that it does. Instead it is motivated by the desire of the religious right to insulate their view of the world from the consensus of modern science. By empowering any teacher to “correct” biology education with immunity, the bill’s supporters hope to advance a specific religious view. Although, the new version of the bill makes an attempt to restrict the “corrections” to scientific ones, the actual effect will be to encourage poorly trained teachers to present unscientific and religiously motivated criticisms of modern science. In fact, the sponsers of the bill make it clear that this is their intention.

Evolution is one theory, creation is an alternative theory. Rep. Jim Carns

This bill will level the playing field because it allows a teacher to bring forward the biblical creation story of humankind. Sen. Wendell Mitchell

Now to the Discovery Institute’s press release. The press release consists mostly of reporting on the changes made to the bill in the House Education committee. What it doesn’t say is that there is only one day left in the legislative calendar of Alabama (Monday, May 17th) for the House to vote on the bill. After that the Senate and the House will have to come to a compromise on the exact language of the bill. All these changes that the Discovery Institute applauds might not even be in a final version of the bill approved by both houses.

The press release ends with the following whopper:

“Around the country teachers have been punished or even fired for simply trying to present mainstream scientific criticisms about evolutionary theory,” says Cooper. …

Is your jaw off the floor yet? “Cooper” refers to attorney Seth Cooper, program officer for public and legal affairs at Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. The Discovery Institute is manufacturing an academic crisis where none exist and thus bearing false witness. Because there are no “mainstream scientific criticisms about evolutionary theory,” it would be rather difficult for teachers to have been punished for presenting them. I urge Cooper that, if he cares about his reputation and that of the Discovery Institute, to correct the record here. I challenge Cooper and the Discovery Institute to present even a single instance where a teacher was punished for presenting “mainstream scientific criticisms of evolutionary theory.” Specifically demonstrate

  • what the teacher presented,
  • that it is part of mainstream science, and
  • that the teacher was indeed punished.

I am sure that I can trust the DI Fellows who read this blog to help set the record straight.


  • Prygoski PJ (2002) Sum & Substance Quick Review of Constitutional Law 8th ed. West Group


If it happened on L.A. Law, does it count?

(Season eight, episode 163 , “God is My Co-Counsel,”

Anyone know of some (perhaps moderated) bio/evolution blogs where creationists are not permitted to overwhelm discussion? TIA.

Steve, try a Google search if you’re so desperate.

While you’re looking, let me know if you find a bio/evolution blog where people aren’t allowed to ask the same question five times on five different threads.

Steve, try this place.

Description: (from home page)

Examination of the arguments made by creation “scientists” about the validity of biological evolution, abiogenesis and cosmology. Creationists are strongly invited to come in and have all of their “arguments” shredded to bits, one at a time, in as much detail as they can stand. For free.

This list deals with SCIENTIFIC TOPICS only. If you want to preach and save souls, go somewhere else. This list is UNMODERATED and can get heated. If you can’t take it, then stay out.

Marty, 2 does not equal 5.

Gary, that’s the opposite of what I’m looking for. What I’m looking for is a forum for evolutionary biology which does not get into the quagmire of arguing with creationists. Evolutionary biology is extraordinary, and I want to think about that, not whatever nonsense religionists say about it. If that doesn’t make sense, think of classical mechanics. If I’m interested in classical mechanics and want to find a forum for it, I don’t want to spend 95% of the time on arguments with people who don’t believe in momentum. Think of computer simulation. If I’m interested in modeling the stability of populations, I don’t want a forum where people who believe computers have little homonculi in them are running amok. I’m not being insulting about it, I just want to find a forum where people who understand the topic can talk about it. I’m not interested in arguing about how obviously wrong things are obviously wrong. I want to find people talking about unobvious right and possibly right things. Real, novel, cutting edge info, not this 100-year old argument with the uninformed. Lots of smart people contribute here, and I hope to get good recommendations about where to find this.

Interesting. It appears that not a single news outlet picked up the Discovery Institute’s press release. Their last couple, ranting about CNN’s coverage of the Missouri legislature, were picked up only by extreme right-wing religious publications.

Could it be the press is wise to the ways of the Discovery Institute? If public relations doesn’t work for them, what do they have left?

Interesting bill. Despite the disclaimers of Section 7, it clearly fails the Lemon test. Here are a couple of interesting questions. First, the bill purports to protect teachers who wish to present “scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views” regarding origins. So if I am the principal of a school who thinks that ID/creationism is pseudo-science babble, does the bill give me license to deny tenure to a teacher who: (1)teaches ID/creationism; (on the ground that it isn’t “scientific”) or (2) fails to teach the “full range of scientific views” of ID/creationism, including the views of the scientific community that it is pseudo-science babble? Arguably so.

Second, I note that Section 5 is hopelessly self-contradictory. It says that students can be evaluated based on their understanding of course material, but it then goes on to say that “no student…shall be penalized in any way because…she may subscribe to a particular position” regarding origins. So envision this:

Exam Question: Discuss the validity of Intellegent Design.

Student Answer: It’s horseshit.

Can the student be failed? I can’t tell from my reading of this Section.

There are so many bases upon which this law can be challenged. Wish I had the time here to get into it, but I don’t. At some point, something like this will pass some state legislature (if it hasn’t already, I don’t know). As soon as it does pass, a lawsuit will be filed. The law should then be declared unconstitutional on First and Fourteenth Amendment grounds. No, it won’t stop the ID/creationists from trying again, but at least its a start.

What’s unfortunate about the Discovery Institute is how well-funded and PR-savvy they are. I don’t see any reason that they won’t be able to convince 90% of Republicans and some percentage of Democrats that they’re valid. School curricula are political decisions. Honestly, I think the 2004 election will play a big role in it. If Bush gets to select 2-3 supreme court members, cases like Edwards v Aguillard might start going the other way.


Please forgive my ignorance, but you wrote, “Why is this bill even needed if Supreme Court precedent already acknowledges that scientific critiques of prevailing theories can be part of public education?”

What was the ruling that placed this precedent on the books?



I will quote from the majority decision in Edwards v. Aguillard.

We do not imply that a legislature could never require that scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories be taught. Indeed, the Court acknowledged in Stone that its decision forbidding the posting of the Ten Commandments did not mean that no use could ever be made of the Ten Commandments, or that the Ten Commandments played an exclusively religious role in the history of Western Civilization. 449 U.S., at 42. In a similar way, teaching a variety of scientific theories about the origins of humankind to schoolchildren might be validly done with the clear secular intent of enhancing the effectiveness of science instruction. But because the primary purpose of the Creationism Act is to endorse a particular religious doctrine, the Act furthers religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.


Did you find what you were looking for? I am a university student and need to put forward a great arguement on the validity of biological evolution using lines of evidence (such as comparative embryology, fossils, evolutionary trends, etc). I just don’t have time to sift through the hundreds of sights. Can anyone help?


Steve, discover News Groups. There are thousands of them. Get a newsreader like Free Agent (google it up). You might like (s.b.e). You can always read the archives of the DML: but thats a tad specialized for the average bear.

Cheryl, your best bet is

All: Check out the news group

You can find news groups via google:[…]ab=wg&q= advanced:

However you’d want a newsreader to keep up with a large group like (t.o).

Thanks, Pete. I did not, in my too-brief survey, find online forums that did not get mired in creationism. So instead, to learn a lot more about evolution, I did three things:

1) I read several books on it, the best of which was What Evolution Is, by Mayr. Outstanding book. 2) In the course of background reading for some protein research this summer, I read a molecular biology textbook (I’d already had ordinary bio), and a book on cloning techniques. 3) On top of Nature, Nature Biotech, and Science, I started reading Pharyngula, The Loom, and the articles here at TPT daily.

After all that, my knowledge of evolution is greatly enlarged. This fall I’ve gotten bogged down in grad and undergrad physics classes, and don’t have much time for it. When I do have more time, I think i’m going to explore gerontology. Many people are working on the root causes of aging, and might make some real progress soon in stopping it.

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This page contains a single entry by Reed A. Cartwright published on May 12, 2004 2:31 PM.

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