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Oklahoma House Passes Academic Freedom Act by Overwhelming Margin

John G. West

Striking a blow for academic freedom in the discussion of scientific controversies, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed the “Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act” (HB 1551) on Thursday evening by an overwhelming vote of 56-12. The measure now awaits consideration by the Oklahoma Senate.

The bill notes that its protections are needed because “some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on some subjects such as, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

The bill would safeguard the rights of both teachers and students. With regard to teachers, it states that they “shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.” With regard to students, the measure states that they “may be evaluated based upon their understanding of course materials, but no student in any public school or institution shall be penalized in any way because the student may subscribe to a particular position on scientific theories.”

Contrary to the false claims of critics in the Darwin lobby, the bill would not promote religion in the science classroom. Indeed, the bill explicitly states:

The provisions of the Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act shall only protect the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or nonreligious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or nonbeliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion. The intent of the provisions of the act is to create an environment in which both the teacher and students can openly and objectively discuss the facts and observations of science.