It's 2019 and Florida lawmakers still want to debate the existence of evolution and human-caused climate change. For that, you can thank longtime state senator and proud son of the Confederacy, Ocala's Dennis Baxley, who recently teamed up with a fringe-right, virulently Islamophobic group to push yet another anti-science bill.
Earlier this month, Baxley filed SB 330 — a bill that seemed to, innocently enough, revise the "minimum baseline standards" for what kids are taught in Florida public schools. One of the few additions Baxley proposed was to ensure all "controversial theories and concepts" be "taught in a factual, objective, and balanced manner."
That is nothing more than an opening for parents and teachers to challenge allegedly controversial ideas such as climate change and evolution. Baxley got the idea for the bill from the Naples-area group the Florida Citizens' Alliance. The Tampa Bay Times yesterday confirmed the Citizens' Alliance drafted the bill's text to ensure alternative theories on climate change and evolution are taught in Florida's schools. Notably, the vast majority of scientists do not believe there are credible alternatives to the theories of evolution and climate change.
The group last made news after then-Governor-Elect Ron DeSantis tapped two of its members to serve on his education advisory team. As New Times has previously reported, the Alliance is virulently Islamophobic, has said LGBTQ people are guilty of "deviant behavior," and claims schools must teach Judeo-Christian values.
The connection to Baxley is perhaps unsurprising given the lawmaker's fringe-right past. He is famous for his unabashed love for the Confederacy — he is the descendant of a Confederate soldier and has repeatedly spoken before a pro-Confederate group in Florida. (He even attended a pro-Confederate event mere weeks after the deadly neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville in 2017.) He seems to make headlines annually for backing utterly insane proposals, such as a 2019 bill he's cosponsoring that seeks to ban the removal of Florida's monuments to the Confederacy.
Baxley also sponsored the 2005 Stand Your Ground law, which became famous after the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin and the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement. Repeated studies have confirmed the law led to a spike in homicides.
There have been other pro-Christianity bills filed for the 2019 legislative session, which begins March 5. A pro-Trump Jacksonville Democrat, former Christian exorcist, and self-proclaimed "Demonbuster," Kim Daniels, filed a bill that seeks to force public schools to teach Bible-study electives. Daniels and Baxley have teamed up on pro-Christianity bills in the past.
But as New Times has previously reported, the Florida Citizens' Alliance is on the fringe, even in the Sunshine State. The group routinely rails against the creeping influence of what it calls "cultural Marxism," "LGBTQ values," and "Islam" in public schools. It publishes an annual list of books it wants the public school system to ban — it has protested books that include "stories depicting ‘victims’ of capitalism, and the bigoted, sexist, racist 'American Culture' where whites victimize Indians, Mexican immigrants, women, Japanese, Chinese, African-American, and animals." The Daily Beast in 2018 published a long article outlining how the group was working to cast doubt on climate-change science in Florida's schools.
The Alliance famously pushed for a 2018 bill that allows parents of public schoolchildren to object to any aspects of the school curriculum they dislike. That bill passed last year.
The group's blogs and social media feeds are full of racist bile. In one April 2018 screed, a writer labeled the 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution — which freed the slaves, gave women the right to vote, and protected civil rights for all people — as "dangerous." Group members also rail against Islam and claim, without a shred of evidence, that Muslims are attempting to "indoctrinate" kids in public schools. In the past, the group has attempted to blame Muslims for the American slave trade. The Alliance has reposted articles from Islamophobe Pamela Geller on the group's own website, including one article titled "Imposing Islam in Your Public School in Six Easy Steps."
Notably, the Alliance has shared materials that encourage teachers to tell kids that Islam was spread throughout history "by the sword" and "through the force of jihad." The group regularly objects to materials that paint the Founding Fathers in a negative light (such as the fact that many owned slaves).
New Times also found last year that the Alliance regularly objects to a series of seemingly tame books and literary classics:
- The Alliance objects to high-school students reading Toni Morrison's Beloved, which is considered one of the greatest American novels and a seminal piece of writing about American race relations, especially the experience of black women in the United States. The Alliance finds the book too "sexual."
- The group wrote that Collier County approved "over 228 titles with LBGTQT themes such as Being Homosexual by Richard Isay containing sexual behavior and homoerotic fantasies of heterosexual men."
- One Alliance member labeled an advanced-placement U.S. History book as an "objectionable social justice warrior handbook which glorifies collectivism, the elimination of private property, and the elimination of God-given rights."
- The group complained that a book called Out of Many focuses "on the negative aspects of American history, class struggles, oppression, and prejudice, rather than the hope, opportunity, and justice of America. This is confirmed by the review of this book in the College Board website, which says, ‘Teachers considering the purchase of Out of Many should be aware that the book has become part of the textbook culture wars.
- Traditionalists who want democracy and free enterprise presented more favorably are bothered by what they see at left-leaning texts that pay too much attention to the dark side of American history.'"
- Naturally, the group flags any text that teaches climate change or evolution as "settled fact." The group even objects to references to humans "descending from apes.”
On Christmas Eve 2018, the group posted a bizarre article, "Santa Claus and the Mythology of Centralized Systems," in which the writer attempted to explain that Santa cannot exist because the North Pole somehow runs like a Marxist commune, a type of economic system the writer says is destined to fail. Thank God someone finally explained why Santa does not make sense!
Just last week, the Florida Citizens' Alliance reacted to a transgender-rights-protection bill from a Republican lawmaker by posting the text of a news article accompanied by the sentences "New Chairman Of The RPOF Embraces LGBT! Are You Kidding Me?????"
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Here, for example, is a great example of the group's level of insane paranoia in relation to Muslim people: In a 2016 report about "objectionable materials" from Lee County's school district, a group member wrote that a history teacher seemed "Islamic" and was trying to teach kids that Islam was somehow "superior" to Christianity or Judaism. The writer objected to the fact that the lesson on Islam did not teach "jihad, marriage of up to four women, female mutilation, the Jizyah 1, death penalty for gays, or growing their religion by bloody conquest." (Note: Muslims are no more violent than members of any other religion.)
The Alliance member wrote:
This book contains 31 pages, Chapter 18, on Islam. Never mentioned is Jihad, marriage of up to four women, female mutilation, the Jizyah 1, death penalty for gays, or growing their religion by bloody conquest. The fact that Muhammed personally murdered and led murdering troops to convert other religions to Islam or face death was not mentioned, nor was the fact that the youngest of his many wives, Aisha, was 9 years old2 . Instead,the entire chapter portrays Islam as just another nice religion like Christianity or Judaism, and in fact, superior to them. The index to this book devotes roughly 15 lines to Judaism, 20 lines to Christianity and over 30 to Islam showing bias just by theamount of coverage. Objectionable passages include: Page 44: “Islam is based on the Quran, a sacred text.” This is contrasted to “The Christian Bible is their sacred text.” My emphasis added. It appears that the person writing this is Islamic.
The writer then admitted outright the group's platform: The book "has no place in our schools where Judeo Christian beliefs have been the foundation of America."