Tennessee law allows creationism theory in classrooms
By Tim Ghianni
NASHVILLE, Tenn | Tue Apr 10, 2012 8:06pm EDT
(Reuters) - Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam on Tuesday refused to sign a bill that would permit discussion of creationism in classrooms alongside the traditional evolutionary-based explanation of the origins of life, but allowed it to become law anyway.
The legislation, dubbed the "Monkey Bill" by critics, had sailed through the conservative-leaning state's Republican-dominated legislature.
Haslam, a Republican, earlier had said he would sign the bill despite his misgivings about its impact on the state's science curriculum. After a petition drive against the proposed legislation, he chose to let it become law without his signature.
"I do not believe that this legislation changes the scientific standards that are taught in our schools or the curriculum," Haslam said on Tuesday. "I also don't believe that it accomplishes anything ..."
Haslam could have vetoed the bill. The legislature, however, could override the veto with a simple majority.
Groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the state teachers union opposed the bill, which requires teachers to permit a discussion of alternative theories to evolution as well as other issues such as global warming.
Teachers are not allowed to raise the alternative theories but must explore them if mentioned.
Critics said the bill provides a way to bring creationism - the belief that life on Earth was created by God - into science classes and have drawn comparisons with the so-called "Monkey Trial" of 1925 in which a Tennessee teacher was accused of violating state law by teaching that life evolved over time.
"With all the emphasis now on science, math and technology, this seems like a real step backwards," Jerry Winters, director of government relations for the Tennessee Education Association, said in an interview with Reuters.
"Tennessee was the focus of this debate in the 1920s and we don't need to be turning the clock back now," Winters said.
"The Scopes Monkey Trial," held in the east Tennessee city of Dayton, drew national attention as defense attorney Clarence Darrow and prosecutor William Jennings Bryan debated teacher John Scopes' right to teach evolution in violation of state law.
Scopes was found guilty, but the verdict was overturned in the state Supreme Court.
(Reporting By Tim Ghianni; Editing by Mary Wisniewski, Greg McCune and Paul Simao)
Tennessee became notoriously backward in the eyes of much of the nation when the 1925 Scopes trial took place. The “monkey trial, pitting established science against the creationist mythology, established a vision of Tennessee as backward, uneducated, and unwilling to become educated.
Since then, Tennessee has become firmly entrenched in nuclear weapons and nuclear fuel processing research and technology. There is a strong scientific presence in the state that is, unfortunately, countered by a religious populace which not only believes the Christian creationist mythology but which intends to shove it down the throats of every citizen of the state, beginning with the children in Tennessee public schools.
Not content to be considered backward and poorly educated, the legislators have decided to abuse their positions by allowing the insertion of creationism into science classes. The sponsors added such current topics as climate change in order to attempt to mask the overt attempt to circumvent the 1st Amendment’s establishment clause.
This will consume teaching time and resources to infiltrate religion into science curriculum, decreasing the already minimal quality of science education in the state. While the new “monkey law” does not allow teachers to bring up the “alternative views” it should be expected that the various evangelical churches would prime students to bring the “alternatives” into class from the very first day. There will be the usual objections to science voiced by a preset roster of religious fanatics-in-training. Sadly, teachers will no longer be able to halt such organized intrusion of mythology into science classes. We’ve come one dangerous step closer to the red states theocracy.
When we moved to Tennessee, we brought no children with us. We two are firmly connected to and grounded with biology, genetics, chemistry, geology, and other scientific disciplines that prove evolution to be a reality. We can also look at the physical world, study the various data sets, and see that climate change is occurring. Other than being laughed at by friends who wonder why we chose to move here, the low quality of Tennessee public education does us little harm. However, if we were concerned about the education of our offspring, Tennessee would join the list of states considered unfit for public education, the red states theocracy.
It’s not just local media picking up this latest legislative idiocy. By failing to veto this bill, the current Governor has assured that other nations will hear of this. It is going to resonate throughout the industrialized, technically competent nations of the world. There will be no foreign investments in manufacturing or technology for Tennessee. What well educated engineer or researcher will wish to place his or her children in schools that teach fairy tales instead of science? Tennessee will become more and more like those third world nations we used to ship sweatshop jobs to.
Governor Haslam, you were not elected to “Christianize the natives.” Veto this new Monkey Law and bring Tennessee into the 21st century.