The Florida State Board of Education now requires the explicit teaching of evolution in public science classes, with a last minute addition of the phrase "the scientific theory of" in an apparent but failed effort to pacify its opponents. The 4 to 3 vote allows for the first time the word "evolution" in the school standards, though the concept of descent with modification over millions of years was already being taught under different wording.
The Orlando Sentinel reported on February 20, 2008 that, after months of controversy over the new standards, opponents of the decision plan to petition the state Legislature to pass protections for teachers who offer alternative origins explanations in the classroom.
The Associated Press reported that evolution supporters believe the academic freedom proposal is a "wedge designed to open the door for injecting religious arguments into science studies," suggesting the irony that "academic freedom" is only available within a limited sphere of minority opinion.
According to a recent poll by the St. Petersburg Times, almost two thirds of 702 registered voters surveyed in Florida were unconvinced of evolution.
Of those two thirds, "|29| percent said evolution is one of several valid theories. Another 16 percent said evolution is not backed up by enough evidence. And 19 percent said evolution is not valid because it is at odds with the Bible," the report stated.
It is this body of constituents that proponents of evolutionary theory apparently fear most and have tried to discredit by casting the debate as "science versus faith" and "scientists versus everyone else."
"People are going to have to be carried kicking and screaming over the threshold |to accept evolution|," Florida State University professor Michael Ruse told the Times. He likened the fight over evolution to the civil rights movement.
The Florida decision will most likely have rippling effects in school districts around the country.