TALLAHASSEE (FBW)—An evolution compromise approved Feb. 19 by the State Board of Education was the best that could be achieved in that body but legislative action to protect academic freedom of teachers offering criticisms of Darwinian evolution is possible, House Speaker Marco Rubio told Florida Baptist Witness in a Feb. 20 interview.
Rubio said the Board of Education's addition of "scientific theory of" before each reference to "evolution" in new science standards for Florida's public schools was "the best fix available" with "the way those votes were lining up."
Although he and other House leaders supported the theory compromise in a Feb. 19 letter to members of the Board of Education, Rubio said critics who believe explicit language protecting academic freedom is necessary "may be right."
At the Feb. 19 BOE meeting, opponents of the science standards uniformly opposed the theory compromise, arguing instead for an "Academic Freedom Proposal" which would have added a clause to the standards permitting teachers "to engage students in a critical analysis" of Darwinian evolution.
John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, in a Feb. 17 letter urged the BOE to oppose the theory compromise in light of the standards' "silence about teaching scientific criticisms of evolution."
Sullivan said both strengths and weaknesses of Darwinian evolution should be taught and said the standards should "honor and encourage the academic freedom of teachers and students on an issue of fundamental importance and ongoing scientific controversy."
Asked if the legislature would be open to academic freedom legislation, Rubio told the Witness, "I think so. Sure. Well, I think the Florida House would. I can't speak for the Senate."
Although a vote count had not been taken on the issue, "we may have sufficient votes on that in the Florida House," he added.
Rubio said there also could be activity in the legislature by evolution proponents who wish to remove the theory compromise language.
"I think there's still going to be folks out there talking about this—on both sides. ... I think this will be a battle that will go on for quite some time," he said.
The "crux" of the disagreement, according to Rubio, is "whether what a parent teaches their children at home should be mocked and derided and undone at the public school level. It goes to the fundamental core of who is ultimately, primarily responsible for the upbringing of children. Is it your public education system or is it your parents?"
Rubio added, "And for me, personally, I don't want a school system that teaches kids that what they're learning at home is wrong."
Rubio, a Cuban-American, made a comparison to the strategy employed by the Communist Party in Cuba where schools encouraged children to turn in parents who criticized Fidel Castro.
"Of course, I'm not equating the evolution people with Fidel Castro," he quickly added, while noting that undermining the family and the church were key means the Communist Party used to gain control in Cuba.
"In order to impose their totalitarian regime, they destroyed the family; they destroyed the faith links that existed in that society," he said.
Although the evolution issue is "obviously" on a "much smaller scale," both matters are related to the "fundamental question of who is in charge of the upbringing of children. Is it parents or is it the government? I believe it's parents. And we should do nothing in government that undermines that relationship.
"And there are parents that passionately believe in this and they should be given the opportunity to teach that to their children without someone undoing it," Rubio said.
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