Missouri and “academic freedom”

I teach at a rather nice Missouri university, and Missouri, like many (most?) states in the US, gets quite a bit of conservative Christian pressure on state-supported science education.

The feeling of being persecuted has deep roots in creationist movements. It’s partially true, for that matter. Within the scientific community, the small minority of creationist scientists are usually treated like deviants, and often met with offhand contempt. The notion that people are hounded out their careers strikes me as being more fantasy than reality, but it is true that scientific circles are rarely comfortable environments for creationists. And where our science classrooms are concerned, we are no more going to treat creationism as a serious option than a flat Earth.

The anti-evolutionary right wing therefore regularly tries to solve their problem by legislating “academic freedom” in such a way as to protect creationism. And just now, the Missouri legislature is gearing up for another fight on these matters. Introduced April 1, House Bill 2554 is all about “teacher academic freedom to teach scientific evidence regarding evolution.” In other words, creationism. It uses what has become standard creationist language such as “teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of theories of biological and chemical evolution.” Since it would not affect universities, it would not directly interfere with my classroom, but it’s nasty stuff nonetheless.

Ah, but then, since December 3, we have a House Bill 1315 to be considered. This is about “intellectual diversity” in higher education. It does not mention evolution, but the political constituencies pushing it intend “intellectual diversity” to mean that we should not have our science classes to be so one-sided as to discuss only evolution in biology and only present physical cosmology in physics.

I do have to admire the intellectual judo act going on, though. These right wing bills are full of impeccably liberal language about diversity, anti-discrimination, and fairness. Why not? If preventing anybody taking offense becomes so politically central, it’s not that surprising that protecting conservative religious sensibilities also becomes a concern.

Added: 1 minute video of Mike Huckabee on creationism and academic freedom.

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