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Personal Persecution Story Inspired Alabama Academic Freedom Bill


The Alabama Academic Freedom Act was originally proposed by Senator Wendell Mitchell (Democrat) in the Alabama State Legislature in 2004 to protect the rights of teachers and students to present scientific views and hold positions regardless of their views on biological evolution. It was re-proposed this year. This legislation is needed in light of the threat to teacher academic freedom to present scientific evidence that might challenge evolution, prohibited by Judge Jones in his Kitzmiller ruling. Sadly, it looks like the bill will not pass this year because Alabama State Senator Jim Preuitt (Democrat) pulled an unfair political power-play and demanded that the bill have its application to the K-12 grade levels removed if he were to permit it to receive a vote on the Alabama Senate floor this year.

This bill has personal significance for one of its main backers, professor Don McDonald. Dr. McDonald was forced to pledge allegiance to evolution while working on his sociology Ph.D., or he might not have been permitted to proceed onward with his dissertation. This just shows that many people who are inspired to protect academic freedom have themselves been victims of Darwinist politics.

Summary of the Bill

This year an excellent bill supporting academic freedom for science teachers was proposed by Alabama State Senator Wendell Mitchell (Democrat) in the Alabama State Legislature. Part of the bill explains the need for protecting academic freedom:

Existing law does not expressly provide a right nor does it expressly protect tenure and employment for a public school teacher or teacher at an institution of higher education for presenting scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views regarding biological evolution. In addition, students are not expressly provided a right to positions on views regarding biological evolution” and thus provided “would expressly provide rights and protection for teachers concerning scientific presentations on views regarding biological evolution and students concerning their positions on views regarding biological evolution.

This bill is simple and clear: it only protects scientific evidence, and does gives no license to introduce religion into the classroom. The bill even contains a provision stating “Nothing in this act shall be construed as promoting any religious doctrine.” One would think that such a bill would be uncontroverted by Darwinists. What do they have to fear from protecting “scientific presentations on views regarding biological evolution”? Apparently something. It’s clear these Darwinists only want certain scientific views in the classroom, but not scientific views which differ from their own.

In today’s climate of censorship and fear, the need for protecting academic freedom is great. Judge Jones ruled in Kitzmiller that Dover school district teachers must censor any scientific evidence that challenges evolution, or they will engage in the unconstitutional and sacrilegious act that would “denigrate or disparage the scientific theory of evolution.” (Kitzmiller, 400 F.Supp.2d at 766.)

Elsewhere, teachers may seek to use mainstream scientific resources to inform students that, contrary to what their textbooks state, some embryological data does not support common descent. These teachers should not think that Judge Jones’ edict applies to them, but the current climate of fear could chill their sense of academic freedom. Students who attempt to raise questions about Darwinism, or who try to elicit from the teacher an honest answer about the status of the scientific theory of intelligent design may trigger administrators’ concerns about whether they stand in constitutional jeopardy. A chilling effect on open inquiry is being felt in several states already, including Ohio, South Carolina, and California. Judge Jones’ message is clear: give Darwin only praise, or else face the wrath of the judiciary. (For more on this, see Traipsing Into Evolution.)

Unfortunately the Alabama Academic Freedom bill looks like it will not move out of the Alabama State Senate because there is insufficient time for a vote this term. Don McDonald, a professor at Troy University who has backed the bill, explains that to get a vote, the bill must be placed on the special order calendar. But this week Alabama Senator Jim Preuitt, chairperson of the Rules Committee, refused to put it on the special order calendar unless the bill was gutted with an amendment to remove any K-12 protection. Senator Preuitt’s unfair political-power play was unfortunate, because the Alabama Senate Education Committee had already seen it fit to send the bill to the full Senate for a vote WITHOUT any amendment to remove K-12 protection. (The Senate could still have amended the bill if it wished.) But unfortunately Preuitt demanded the that the bill would not pass his desk unless it was amended to his liking.

A Personal Connection

Dr. Don McDonald has a personal connection which inspired his need to protect teacher and student academic freedom regarding biological evolution.

After five years of coursework, teaching and publication, Dr. McDonald’s dissertation process stopped when his committee discovered that McDonald was not a convinced evolutionist. During a presentation meeting, which had nothing to do with Darwinian theory, McDonald was asked if he was familiar with a particular sociological theory that is based on “survival of the fittest” (in this case, among human organizations). The response was “Yes, and I think it more defendable there than in biology.” The dissertation process stopped. Committee members had a discussion among themselves, and one member of the committee was strongly against the dissertation proceeding, meaning the possibility of assigning a PhD to this man would be history. Another member of the committee, seeking to rescue Don’s career, agreed to represent the committee in a private meeting with him, in which he would try to straighten the matter out.

Faced with this litmus test — bow to Darwin or lose his career — Don decided that if he were to proceed onward with his dissertation, he had no choice but to tell his mentor and that his mentor was right about evolution. Needless to say, this incident did not sit well with Dr. Don McDonald. He hopes that future students will not have to face the same dilemma.

If teachers and students had the legally-protected academic freedom to hold minority scientific viewpoints on these matters, then perhaps they would not face the ultimatum that forced McDonald to choose between his career, and what he believed to be the best science. How many who pledge support to Darwin today find themselves in the same position? Don McDonald suspects there could be many, giving him pure motivations to see teachers and students protected in Alabama.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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