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Florida Legislator Cites “Inherit the Wind” as Authority for Opposing Academic Freedom in Evolution Debate

Now we know where some Florida legislators who oppose academic freedom in the evolution debate are getting their ideas about evolution. And it’s not from any science textbook. It’s from the bombastic play Inherit the Wind, long discredited by historians for its fantasy version of the history of the Scopes trial.

Last week, Florida’s Senate Minority Leader Steve Geller cited Inherit the Wind in his attack on the proposed Academic Freedom Act in his state that would prevent teachers from being disciplined or terminated “for objectively presenting scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding biological or chemical evolution.”

According to the Tampa Tribune:

Geller … said he was reminded of his high-school days, when he took part in a production of “Inherit the Wind,” Jerome Lawrence’s and Robert E. Lee’s fictionalized drama about the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in which a Tennessee teacher was tried for teaching evolution.

“I never thought I’d be in the Florida Senate in the 21st century, still having the same debate about evolution,” said Geller, adding he hopes Storms’ bill, which he called “divisive,” never gets heard in committee.

So Geller thinks he knows all there is to know about the evolution debate because he played a part in a high school production of Inherit the Wind?! What next? Will he claim he’s an expert about space exploration because he once dressed up as Mr. Spock at a Star Trek convention? It’s hard to parody the defenders of Darwin’s theory, because they go out of their way to make themselves so ridiculous.

Of course, Geller’s invocation of Inherit the Wind is also ironic because he seems oblivious to the main point of the play, which was that teachers should have the freedom to talk about unpopular ideas in the classroom. Yet now he’s invoking the play as a justification for opposing academic freedom!

Perhaps Geller might want to re-read the comments of teacher John Scopes himself, who once declared: “If you limit a teacher to only one side of anything, the whole country will eventually have only one thought… I believe in teaching every aspect of every problem or theory.”

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.