Update on Alabama SB45/HB106

Ed Note: This update comes from a member of Alabama Citizens for Science. It concerns SB45/HB106, the “Academic Freedom Act”, which intends to give any teacher at any level the “freedom” to corrupt science education for any reason. The 2006 version drops the obvious anti-evolution language of its failed predecessors.

This is an update on SB45, the “Academic Freedom Act” currently wending its way through the Alabama Senate.

Last week’s “Public Hearing” was truncated because of lack of time and supposed to be finished today (Wednesday March 8) at 8:30 AM.

I went to the Senate Education Committee meeting this morning. They had 7 bills on the agenda, including two which had public hearings, but they only had the room reserved for 30 minutes and they started 10 minutes late. Half of the Senators on the committee weren’t even there for the first 15 minutes, so they missed what little there was of the “public hearing”, in which only one supporter and one opponent of SB45 were allowed to speak (we had at least 5 speakers there, and the creationists had at least 2).

The one supporter was a man who appeared to be in his late 70’s or older, who they identified as Dr Frady. If anyone knows who this might have been, please let me know. His primary point was that Alabama needed more diversity of viewpoints in schools. It was pretty much standard creationist boilerplate.

The one opponent was John Draper, president of the professional association of Alabama public school principals and superintendents (http://www.clasleaders.com/). His primary objection was that SB45 would allow teachers to bring ideas such as racism, abortion and Atheism into the classroom. This resonated well with the Senators.

Several Senators on the committee had problems with various particulars in the bill, and tried to amend it and/or change it. Chief among these was Bradley Byrne, Republican from Mobile, who was not supportive of evolution when he was on the State Board of Education in 2001 but actually had some pretty constructive ideas this time. The changes were so extensive that the chair (Senator Vivian Figures) would not let the committee vote on any version of SB45, and requested that it be revised and presented again at a later meeting (next week?) of the Senate Education Committee.

The meeting then adjourned because another committee had reserved the room for 9:00.

I think it is pretty clear that SB45 will not pass in its current form. There are several ways that they can change it to improve its chances. The most likely, I think, is that they will exempt kindergarten thru 12th grade (K-12) and make it apply only to public colleges, universities, and graduate schools. This alternative got the votes of all 6 Democrats on the House Education Committee (the House Republicans , and have some attractiveness to both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate Education Committee today. Since the main opposition has come from professional associations of K-12 educators, this alternative will keep them from opposing SB45 because it will not effect them.

I have not heard from any Alabama public universities how they will stand on SB45 with this change. I doubt that they will like it, but I have not seen them working against SB45 or HB106 (the House version), and every “Academic Freedom Act” since they first surfaced in 2004 would have effected them if passed.

It is clear that all of our efforts are paying off. Certainly getting K-12 out of this horrendous bill protects our most vulnerable students.