Baxley and the Religious Liberties Act

I told you about the “Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act” (House Bill 303) filed in the Florida house and my concerns with it. Today, a companion bill was filed in the senate: Senate Bill 436. It’s a duplicate of the house bill.

I’ve seen troublesome bills in past years that were only filed in one chamber but not the other. Those bills always faded away, usually without even getting a hearing in any committees. But seeing that the current bill has versions filed in both chambers heightens my concern. That increases the chances of it at least making it out of the starting gate, so to speak.

baxleyAnother thing to worry about is who filed the senate bill: Dennis Baxley. He was a representative in the state house back in 2005 when he sponsored an infamous bill titled The Academic Freedom Bill of Rights. That bill would have prevented “biased indoctrination” by “the classroom dictator.” In defense of that bill he related an upsetting personal story of a Florida State University professor ranting against creationism in class. You can read more about that bill in chapter 8 of Going Ape: Florida’s Battles over Evolution in the Classroom. (The fact that Baxley is back in action is a good reason to get up to speed on his history, don’t you think?)

In 2008 there was a big brawl over the inclusion of evolution in the new state science standards. (Chapter 9 in Going Ape.) Baxley was then executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida and he had a firm opinion about the issue:

“There is no justification for singling out evolution for special skepticism or critical analysis,” wrote Richard T. O’Grady, executive director of the American Institute of Biological Sciences in a Feb. 8 letter to the Board of Education. “Its strength as a scientific theory matches that of the theory of gravitation, atomic theory and the germ theory.”

The response from Dennis Baxley, executive director of the Christian Coalition of Florida: “He’s in error.”

“At one time, the scientific community thought that for good health, you should attach leaches to your body,” said Baxley, a former state representative from Ocala. “We’re just asking them to leave the door open a little bit” for other evidence to be considered.

Stay tuned …