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Tennessee Bill to Push Creationism in Schools

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By Simon Brown

Like something out of a George A. Romero movie, Tennessee lawmakers have revived a scary bill that would open the door to promotion of creationism in public schools.

HB 368 passed the Tennessee House of Representatives in 2011, but went nowhere after that. This year Sen. Bo Watson (R-Hixson) brought it back, albeit with some minor changes.

Watson said the legislation (SB 893 in the Senate) would give guidelines to teachers as they try to answer student questions about evolution, global warming and other subjects, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. He also said the bill would specify that teachers cannot be punished for answering questions about creationism.

The bill passed the Senate 24-8 on March 19. All the “no” votes came from Democrats, some of whom criticized the measure. Sen. Tim Barnes (D-Clarksville) said the proposal is more a political stunt than an attempt to improve science education, according to the News Sentinel

Sen. Andy Berke (D-Chattanooga) said teachers don’t need any help from the state legislature.

“We are simply dredging up the problems of the past with this bill and that will affect our teachers in the future,” Berke said.

Americans United issued a legislative alert about the bills yesterday. It said: “Teaching evolution as a ‘theory’ is just one of many attempts to undermine students’ learning about evolution.  Implying that there is a scientific controversy around evolution, as this bill does, is just plain false. Evolution is not a ‘scientific controversy,’ but rather is debated only in the political sphere – this ‘controversy’ has no place in Tennessee’s science classrooms…. By undermining unbiased science education, SB 893 and HB 368 would harm Tennessee students, religious liberty and Tennessee’s national reputation.”

Other critics of the legislation include the National Center for Science Education, which dubbed the proposal a “zombie bill.”

In a statement, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers also opposed the legislation because religion has no place in public school classrooms.

“Invoking nonnaturalistic or supernatural events or beings are not scientific in character, do not conform to the scientific usage of the word theory, and should not be part of valid science curricula,” the statement said.

The National Earth Science Teachers Association (NESTA) expressed a similar sentiment.

“[This bill] misrepresent[s] key scientific concepts and principles, and would undermine the education of Tennessee's students,” NESTA said in a statement.  

This bill is just another attempt to open the door for creationism in schools. It seems innocent enough because it allows teachers to discuss creationism only if a student inquires about it. But it doesn’t matter who brings up the topic – teaching religion is teaching religion. Plus, who’s to say that a teacher wouldn’t pull a student aside and instruct him or her to bring up creationism in class?

It’s a shame the state that hosted Tennessee v. Scopes (aka the “Scopes monkey trial”) in 1925 is still trying to trample on sound science education. While Scopes didn’t kick creationism out of schools, the U.S. Supreme Court has since given it the boot, so even if Watson and his cohorts pass their bill, the courts are unlikely to let it stand.

As with all zombie movies, bringing something back to life rarely works out well. Tennessee lawmakers should have left this bill for dead.


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