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Academic Freedom Bill Passes Tennessee State Senate

On Monday, an academic freedom bill, SB 893, passed the Tennessee State Senate by a vote of 25-8. The bill enjoyed bipartisan support from all the Republicans, and over 35% of Democrats, in the Tennessee State Senate. The proposed legislation is a standard academic freedom bill that would apply generally to the teaching of controversial scientific theories, not just evolution. It contains the following good language:

  • “The teaching of some scientific subjects required to be taught under the curriculum framework developed by the state board of education may cause debate and disputation including, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”
  • “Neither the state board of education, nor any public elementary or secondary school governing authority, director of schools, school system administrators, or any public elementary or secondary school principal or administrators 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 within the curriculum framework developed by the state board of education.”
  • “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.”

Thus, the bill includes a clear statement that it only applies to teaching science and does not protect teaching religion. Don’t expect that to satisfy critics, who will predictably ignore the actual language of the bill and falsely claim it would introduce religion in the classroom.

The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) is already mocking SB 893 as the “Tennessee monkey bill”– reminiscent of the law passed in the 1920s that criminalized the teaching of evolution in Tennessee, leading to the Scopes trial. However, the situation is the reverse of what it was in the 1920s. Today, Darwin-skeptics are the ones fighting for intellectual freedom, while Darwin-promoters try to squash and censor opposing views. The NCSE’s “monkey bill” comparison is completely inapt: the effect of this bill would be to bring more, not less, instruction on evolution into the classroom. That’s precisely why the Darwin lobbyists don’t like it. It would allow students to learn the scientific weaknesses in biological evolution in addition to the strengths.

As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Scalia has noted, the Darwin lobby today enforces “Scopes-in-reverse,” where scientific viewpoints that do not support evolution are excluded from classrooms through a climate of fear and intimidation. Let’s hope the good people of Tennessee aren’t intimidated, and continue to support academic freedom.