Ambiguous Tennessee Education Bill

As you know, Tennessee is one of only two states (Louisiana being the other) that have enacted a version of the Discovery Institute’s creationist Academic Freedom bill. At the time it was passed (in 2012), we wrote Thoughts on the Tennessee Creationism Law.

Now a new education bill has been proposed for that state. We read about it in The Tennessean of Nashville, Tennessee, the state capital. Their headline is Bill seeks to prevent religious indoctrination in schools. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

A state lawmaker filed a bill Wednesday to quell statewide concerns about religious indoctrination in public schools.

That sounds nice. What’s would the new bill do — repeal the 2012 creationism law? No, of course not. We’re talking about Tennessee, where it seems that no one can get elected to office unless he’s a hard-core drooler. The Tennessean tells us:

Middle school students learn about major world religions in social studies, and in recent months, some parents and officials have raised concerns about how and what students learn about Islam. The bill enables local school boards to set guidelines on how religions are taught in school, among other things.

Ah, it’s not about science. The kiddies already get creationism in science class. This bill applies to social studies, where there has been — gasp! — instruction about Islam. Let’s read on:

I’m not opposed to teaching religion. I am opposed to indoctrination and proselytization,” said Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, who co-sponsors HB1905 with Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville, and Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Johnson City.

Matthew Hill is a Tennessee legislator, so of course he doesn’t oppose teaching religion — his religion. What he probably means is that he doesn’t want any other religions presented in a favorable light.

This is the legislature’s page for Matthew Hill. It doesn’t say much. He has a degree from East Tennessee State University, and his occupation is listed as “Broadcaster.” Ah, Wikipedia has a more informative write-up on him: Matthew Hill. They say:

Hill graduated from Tri-Cities Christian High School and then went on to earn an Associate degree from Northeast State Technical Community College during 2001. Hill later completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communication from East Tennessee State University.

[…]

Hill is a children’s radio show host of the weekday broadcast of the Bible Buddies WHCB Kid’s Show with Mr. Matthew featuring Christian Rock music and had formerly hosted the The Matthew Hill Show nationally syndicated broadcast radio program that was also hosted online by the IRN USA Radio News network as a free archived podcast.

Hill is employed by his father, Rev. Dr. Kenneth “Ken” C. Hill, as Information Communications Corporation, Inc. Vice President and as an Evangelical Methodist broadcaster with WHCB 91.5 FM (Dr. Hill also serves as the president of the 501(c)(3) Appalachian Educational Communications Corporation that owns WHCB 91.5 FM and the Cameo Theater).

[…]

Among the 2006 legislation sponsored by Hill in the Tennessee General Assembly is HB2921, authorizing (upon passage) “…the display, in county and municipal public buildings…, of replicas of historical documents and writings” including the Ten Commandments religious displays.

That’s what we’re dealing with. Here’s a link to his bill: HOUSE BILL 1905. We’ll skip the rest of the news story and give you the text of the bill, with a few Curmudgeonly remarks included in brackets:

WHEREAS, all Tennessee children should be provided accurate and comprehensive instruction in social studies; and

WHEREAS, religious events, beliefs, and figures have played a significant role in world history, including the founding of the United States [Aaaargh!!] and the State of Tennessee; and

WHEREAS, the Constitution of the State of Tennessee declares that all men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship according to their own conscience, and that no human authority can control or interfere with the rights of conscience; and

WHEREAS, schools may not indoctrinate, promote, or show bias to a religion; now therefore.

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 language as a new, appropriately designated section:

(a) The inclusion of religion in textbooks, instructional materials, curriculum, or academic standards shall be for educational purposes only and shall not be used to promote or establish any religion or religious belief.

(b) Prior to the 2016-2017 school year, each local school board shall adopt a policy regarding the appropriate inclusion of religion in local curriculum and instructional materials; provided, that an opportunity for public comment shall be provided by each local school board before adoption of the policy.

(c) Each LEA [Local Education Agency, Tennessee’s term for local school district] shall make publicly available a syllabus for all grade six (6) through twelve (12) social studies, science, math, and English language arts courses. The syllabus shall at a minimum include:(1) A course calendar that includes standards, objectives, and topics covered; (2) Major assignments required; and (3) Procedures for parental access to instructional materials in accordance with § 49-6-7003.

(d) The state board of education shall initiate a revision process for the social studies standards adopted in 2013. (1) The revision process shall be in accordance with § 49-1-313. (2) The state board shall ensure that the revised standards do not promote religion and do not amount to indoctrination or proselytism.

SECTION 2. Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, Chapter 5, Part 56, is amended by adding the following language as a new, appropriately designated section:

Teacher training institutions shall provide candidates with instruction on what is constitutionally permissible when teaching religious content and strategies for dealing with religious content in curriculum that are educationally sound, fair, neutral, and objective.

SECTION 3. This act shall take effect upon becoming a law, the public welfare requiring it.

If this thing gets passed, what does it mean? We’re not sure. We’ve seen worse. It seems to be an attempt to keep religion in the public schools, while minimizing criticism because teachers have to mention religions other than Christianity. Considering who is behind this thing, we doubt that it’s intended to have what we would consider a beneficial effect.

Copyright © 2016. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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7 responses to “Ambiguous Tennessee Education Bill

  1. michaelfugate

    If all these people believe about Christianity were true, then why are they so afraid of other religions or no religion? You would think they didn’t have much faith after all.

  2. It’s not for the adults, it’s for their children whom they don’t want influenced or allow them to make up their own minds or learn about other people. Religion is very selfish and self-indulgent. Too, this law might be construed to include all those nasty atheist evolutionists who would poison children’s minds and lead them ‘astray.’

  3. Section (1) (a) is absolute lawsuit bait. Tennessee’s law is almost certain to wind up before the Supreme Court, since it will be impossible to separate “educational purposes” from indoctrination in or promotion of particular religious beliefs.

  4. Here in Australia no one gives a [[edited out] about religion. Why not adopt the ozzy approach and export them.

  5. Ceteris Paribus

    @ Eric:
    My guess is that Section (1) (a) is not a problem at all, as long as religion as a subject unto itself is not being taught to the kiddies. If religion is being offered only as a cultural topic, no problem.

    But we all know that given a comprehensive textbook with many chapters, the teachers always find ways to “not have time” to cover it all. And is humanism or atheism even to be included in a course on “religion”

    What I want to know is why this Tennessee legislator has a B.S. degree in “Broadcasting”. Maybe he needed to go to college to learn how to say “Breaker, breaker, hey good buddy, looks like you got a smoky on your tail”

  6. Holding the Line in Florida

    This is the part I don’t like.
    “Teacher training institutions shall provide candidates with instruction on what is constitutionally permissible when teaching religious content and strategies for dealing with religious content in curriculum that are educationally sound, fair, neutral, and objective”
    I can easily see this Social Studies thing doing the Vulcan Mind Meld into Science with the foreseeable results. Teach both sides of the issue. After all isn’t Evilution a religion?

  7. Fair and equal treatment would demand so much time to cover all the various sects of each religion that there would be no time in the school day to cover any other subjects, let alone any other Social Studies topics like geography or government.

    For instance, what’s the difference in beliefs of a Presbyterian, say, and a United Methodist? Or an Evangelical Methodist? Eastern Orthodox vs. Roman Catholic? Shiia vs. Sunni Moslem? And on and on and on….

    Buddhist, Taoist, Shinto, Orthodox Judaism, Reform Judaism — why, just to list them all here would require days and days and many gigabytes.

    So, since this is not a religion blog, I shall stop.