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Actor Ben Stein brings ‘star power’ to evolution debate
By JAMES A. SMITH SR.
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TALLAHASSEE (FBW)—Florida legislators got a taste of Hollywood March 12 as actor-comedian Ben Stein brought his controversial film “Expelled” to Tallahassee to help lobby in favor of legislation to allow academic freedom when evolution is taught in Florida public schools.
At a Capitol news conference, Stein was joined by Rep. Alan Hays (R-Umatilla), sponsor of HB 1483—the “Academic Freedom Act”—and other advocates of the legislation filed in response to the Florida Board of Education’s adoption of new science standards regarded by critics as dogmatic in its approach to evolution.
Known for his portrayal of the boring teacher in the 1986 movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” and host of the Comedy Central game show, “Win Ben Stein’s Money,” Stein is also an attorney, former presidential speech writer and journalist who stars in the documentary film “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” which examines censorship and persecution of credentialed scientists who have raised doubts about Darwinian evolution.
The film is scheduled for release nationwide April 18.
While in Tallahassee, in addition to hosting a private screening of the film Wednesday evening for legislators, Stein is also visiting legislators about the bill.
Pressed by some reporters if he was a registered lobbyist, Stein said he was not, quipping: “I’m not going to lobby; I’m just here for my star power.”
Regarding the academic freedom legislation, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Ronda Storms (R-Brandon), a member of First Baptist Church in Brandon, Stein told reporters: “The neo-Darwinists in particular have become more Darwinist than Darwin, in the sense that they will simply not permit any questioning of Darwin, whereas Darwin encouraged, applauded questioning of his theories and beliefs.”
Contrary to critics, Stein said the bill does not permit teaching Intelligent Design—regarded by some scientists as a veiled form of creationism.
The bill is “about freedom of speech, freedom of inquiry—nothing more complicated than that.”
“We have freedom of speech in just about every other area. Why don’t we have it here?” Stein asked.
Rep. Alan Hays (R-Umatilla), a member of First Baptist Church in Umatilla, spoke at the March 12 news conference about his “Academic Freedom Act.”
Rep. Hays, a member of First Baptist Church in Umatilla and a dentist who urges his patients to take healthy preventative measures, said the Legislature owes it to “our teachers to prevent them from undue harassment, undue penalties and any other type of ostracism that might be coming their way” concerning evolution.
“I think our teachers need to be able to stand before their students, lead them in an intellectual analysis of Darwin’s theory without harassment and that’s why I’m sponsoring HB 1483,” he said.
Retired Polk County science teacher Robin Brown who taught science for 31 years, including 15 years of teaching Darwinian evolution, said without the academic freedom bill she is “very concerned about the chilling effect that Florida’s new science standards might have upon teacher academic freedom.”
Brown, a member of First Baptist Church of the Mall in Lakeland, added, “I believe in light of the new standards many teachers are presently unclear about the boundaries of how they can teach evolution.”
She rejected critics’ claims that the academic freedom bill will result in teaching Intelligent Design or creationism.
“I’m not talking about teaching religion in the science classroom. I would never support that and, in fact, this bill does not support that,” Brown said.
John Stemberger, president of Florida Family Policy Council implored reporters to accurately report on the academic freedom bill, limiting their reporting to the “four corners of the text of the bill itself,” rather than critics’ claims about the bill.
“I have never, ever, in my two decades of … social activism, seen more hostility, more mischaracterization, more intellectual dishonesty, more just bad faith from our opponents than in this issue of challenging Darwinism,” he said.
Stemberger characterized dogmatic evolutionists as “religious, hard core, Darwinists” who “stand in the shoes of the Flat Earth Society….”
Stemberger said the Board of Education’s adoption of new science standards made the academic freedom bill necessary, as well as documented cases of public school teachers across the nation punished for raising objections to Darwinian evolution.
Casey Luskin, an attorney with the Discovery Institute, known nationally for its advocacy of Intelligent Design, told the news conference the proposed academic freedom bill would not require the teaching of Intelligent Design and criticized “fearmongering” by critics who are distorting the legislation.
“The old Scopes trial stereotype of teachers fearing persecution for teaching the evidence for evolution is being turned on its head. Today, it’s the teachers and students who are raising questions about Darwin’s theory that are being stifled,” Luskin said, citing cases of teachers in Texas, Washington state, and Minnesota who have suffered for raising questions about Darwinism.
Calling the need for the legislation “especially pressing” due to the new science standards, Luskin added, “These dogmatic standards create a legitimate fear among teachers and students that they may be penalized if they try to discuss the scientific weaknesses, as well as the strengths of modern Darwinism.”
Luskin noted that teachers who support the teaching of evolution are protected by the proposed bill as much as those teachers who wish to teach scientific criticisms on the subject.
Rejecting Florida Citizens for Science’s characterization of the academic freedom bill as “‘smelly crap,’” Luskin said, “academic freedom is not ‘smelly crap’; in fact, it’s the foundation of a free society.”
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