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|'Academic freedom' bills questioned|
A pair of bills making their way through the regular legislative session are being championed as promoting "academic freedom" by proponents and derided by opponents as a "backdoor attempt to inject religion into the science classroom."
State Rep. Frank Hoffmann introduced one of the bills Tuesday, House Bill 1168.
Hoffmann, R-West Monroe, said the legislation was not about evolution or teaching religion in the classroom, which opponents of the "academic freedom" measures claim.
Instead, Hoffmann said his bill was aimed at giving teachers an avenue to address controversial topics with students.
"I'm not going to try to argue with a scientist about scientific facts because I'm not an expert," said Hoffmann, a former assistant superintendent of Ouachita Parish Schools. "But I am an educator so when I say this bill is not about science, it's about academic freedom for teachers."
According to the bill filed by Hoffmann, "The teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning can cause controversy, and some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects."
Opponents of the "academic freedom" measures say the bills have nothing to do with academic freedom and everything to do with allowing teachers to discuss religion with their students.
Monroe attorney Charles Kincaid called the "academic freedom" bills part of "a continuation of a ceaseless effort to get religion in the public schools."
"The problem with that is they are trying to promote the false notion that biological evolution is a contentious or controversial topic," Kincaid said. "It's not. It's an accepted, scientific fact."
University of Louisiana-Monroe biology professor Dr. Anna Hill said she already has to teach public school students who are "ill-equipped" to deal with college-level science courses.
Hill said many students come to college biology classes with questions about evolution because their high school biology teachers told them evolution does not happen or that many scientists don't believe evolution is real.
"I don't know which scientist they're talking about," said Hill. "Every biologist, as far as I know, knows that evolution happens."
Hill pointed out that no disagreement exists in the scientific community concerning whether evolution occurs.
"There is no controversy," Hill said. "There are some questions about tiny little mechanisms within biology about how evolution happens, but it happens."
Kincaid asked if proponents of the bill wanted alchemy to be taught in chemistry classrooms or horoscopes in astronomy classrooms.
"What should be taught in the science class is science," Kincaid said. "It should not be a religious forum."
Hoffmann said his bill was not geared toward interjecting religion in the science classroom. He said it would give teachers the right to address questions raised by students.
Though scientists do not dispute evolution, Hoffmann said many people in the community -- including religious leaders -- offer different opinions.
"That still makes those subjects controversial," Hoffmann said.