Tennessee joins the mournful list of states that are considering creationism legislation this year. Our friends at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) report Antievolution legislation in Tennessee. They provide a link to HOUSE BILL 368 (2-page pdf file), and they also give some historical information about Tennessee’s prior legislative activity in this area, as well as some information about the sponsor of this year’s bill.
Here’s the full text of the new bill, with some bold font added by us for emphasis:
BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE:
SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, Chapter 6, Part 10, is amended by adding the following as a new, appropriately designated section:
(a) The general assembly finds that: (1) An important purpose of science education is to inform students about scientific evidence and to help students develop critical thinking skills necessary to becoming intelligent, productive, and scientifically informed citizens; (2) The teaching of some scientific subjects, including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy; and (3) Some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects.
(b) The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, directors of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues.
(c) The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, directors of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies. Toward this end, teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.
(d) Neither the state board of education, nor any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrator, or any public elementary or secondary school principal or administrator shall prohibit any teacher in a public school system of this state from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.
(e) This section only protects the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion.
SECTION 2. By no later than the start of the 2011-2012 school term, the department of education shall notify all directors of schools of the provisions of this act. Each director shall notify all employees within the director’s school system of the provisions of this act.
SECTION 3. This act shall take effect upon becoming a law, the public welfare requiring it.
It’s a typical anti-science, anti-evolution, pro-creationism bill authorizing teachers to present the “strengths and [alleged] weakness” of certain “controversial” subjects, with the usual (and nonsensical) directions to the courts to construe it in a manner clearly contrary to its manifest purpose of permitting creationism to be taught in science classes. With trivial differences, it’s boringly similar to legislation introduced this year in Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.
Here’s a link for tracking the progress and status of HB 368 as it works its way through the legislative process. Nothing has happened since the bill was introduced on 09 February.
This is a link to the legislature’s page for Bill Dunn, who sponsored this silly bill. His biographical information says: “Certified Arborist, B.S. in Animal Science and M.S. in Extension Education from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.” An arborist is a tree surgeon, and animal science is the study of farm animals. The University of Tennessee apparently doesn’t teach evolution with those subjects.
The Tennessee legislature convened on 11 January and is scheduled to adjourn in mid-May. There’s plenty of time for this bill to get passed if the legislature is so inclined — and they may be. It should be remembered that Tennessee is the state that once outlawed teaching evolution and was the site of the Scopes Trial. Also, the Tennessee governor, Bill Haslam, is a creationist (see Tennessee Governor’s Race: Incurable Creationism).
As we always do, your humble Curmudgeon offers his own solution to this problem. If there are any clear-headed members of the legislature, we recommend that they give serious consideration to The Curmudgeon’s Amendment. It’s designed to nullify legislation like this. In a nutshell, our amendment says only that the bill doesn’t authorize teaching creationism or intelligent design. Period. If the amendment gets adopted, we win. And if it’s defeated we win anyway, because rejecting the amendment creates a record of legislative intent (to permit creationism) which the courts will use to declare the law unconstitutional.
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