State Representative Bill Zedler's legislative career can be summed up as a quixotic attempt to foist his puritanical worldview onto the state's 26 million residents. Backdoor abortion bans, stripper licensing, Sharia law bans, making life unnecessarily difficult for gay college kids. Whatever your right-wing hobby horse, Zedler's filed a bill on it.
The thing is, Zedler's not particularly adept at getting his legislation passed. The vast majority of his proposals die a quiet, unremarkable death in House committees. That's comforting to know, but it's not quite enough to ease the jitters whenever one of Zedler's pet issues comes up for discussion. Today it's HB 285, which is getting a hearing from the Texas House Committee on Higher Education.
The bill's a simple one, stipulating that no colleges or universities in the state of Texas can "discriminate against or penalize in any manner" any faculty member or student for conducting research on intelligent design. That's the rather innocuous term of art for the idea that the universe is so complex that it must have a creator, who tends to resemble the God of conservative Christians.
Zedler told the Houston Chronicle the bill was inspired by Ben Stein's documentary "Expelled," which argues that intelligent design is a valid scientific theory that has been crushed by an academic establishment that has guzzled the Darwinian Kool-Aid.
And the measure is couched in appealing language. No one likes discrimination, and universities are supposed to be bastions of academic freedom where ideas can be discussed and evaluated on their own merits, right?
Fair enough, but that's not what Zedler's bill is about, and a group of 19 scientists from the University of Texas want lawmakers to know that. As the Texas Freedom Network noted today, the group of mostly biologists sent a letter to Chairman Dan Branch and the rest of the members of House Committee on Higher Education urging them to reject the proposal, arguing that it "would undermine the teaching of sound science in the state's college (sic) and universities."
For starters it's been well established, by federal judges and others, that intelligent design is little more than creationism dressed up to look like science. Creationism isn't a testable scientific theory but a typically religious conviction that the universe works in a certain way.
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Beyond that, the language is dangerously broad.
While we strongly support academic freedom and protections for valid scientific research, we don't think colleges and universities should be required to look the other way when faculty and students distort mainstream science. Yet HB 285's broad language could require that colleges and universities do more than simply look the other way. By barring discrimination "in any manner," HB 285 could force our state's institutions of higher education to fund research that distorts the mainstream science on evolution.
They go onto point out that state law, as well as the policies of most if not all of the state's institutions of higher education, require that academic freedom be protected. There's no indication those safeguards have failed.
"[W]hile universities already are committed to protect academic freedom," the professors write, "they shouldn't be required to protect academic fraud."