Florida House Committee Passes ABOR · 22 March 2005

Filed under: Florida, Press Coverage

Detractors say it is geared toward conservative and religious views.

By Joe Follick--Ledger Tallahassee Bureau--03/23/05

TALLAHASSEE -- University students would be guaranteed "free inquiry and free speech" in the classroom under a bill approved by a House committee Tuesday.

But detractors said it would open up legal assaults from students upset by the absence of fringe views.

"Students that say, `I don't believe the Holocaust happened. I believe that birth control is a sin. I think that prayer is a way to deal with illness rather than medical intervention.' All of those people (would) have standing to go to the courts" if college professors discussed those broad topics without addressing their particular concerns, said Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach.

House Bill 837's sponsor, Ocala Republican Rep. Dennis Baxley, disagreed forcefully, saying conservatives are targets of "persecution" on campus. Baxley recalled his first day in an anthropology class at Florida State University when the professor said, "Evolution is a fact. There's no missing link. I don't want to hear any talk about intelligent design and if you don't like that, there's the door."

"The leftists with those viewpoints didn't take our campuses," Baxley said. "Those in the mainstream just relinquished them for fear of being called bigots."

A House committee approved the bill on party lines Tuesday. Given Baxley's powerful post of House Education Council chairman, passage in the House seems likely.

But Baxley admitted passage in the Senate might be more difficult.

The Senate has yet to schedule a hearing for its version of the bill. Baxley said he got the idea for the bill from well-known conservative activist David Horowitz. Horowitz's group, Students for Academic Freedom, has pushed for passage of similar bills in all 50 states.

House Bill 837 promises to protect "free inquiry and free speech within the academic community." A portion of the bill says that students should not have their academic freedom "infringed upon by instructors who persistently introduce controversial matter into the classroom that has no relation to the subject of study and serves no legitimate pedagogical purpose."

Baxley says the bill would also protect a pro-choice student from retribution if he disagreed with a professor's pro-life stances, but argued it was to protect conservative voices in liberal academe.

Gelber said the bill would infringe academic freedom by banishing open dialogue with no restraints. "Candidly, it's a horrible step," he said.

Baxley said even if the bill doesn't become law, it serves as warning to professors misusing their position "in order to indoctrinate the next generation."

Teachers and professors' groups are opposed to the bill, but did not provide specifics during brief remarks in the House Choice and Innovation Committee Tuesday.