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With Empty Threats of Lawsuits, the Tennessee Darwin Lobby Is Just Fearmongering

An anti-academic freedom op-ed in The Tennessean makes the false claim that an academic freedom bill, if passed, would lead to lawsuits. Authored by three life-science academics in the state, the op-ed warns:

Especially with regard to evolution, there is every reason to believe that these bills would, if enacted, provoke a lawsuit. Whether or not the law would be challenged as unconstitutional on its face, there is every reason to think that local school districts or individual teachers would take it as a license to teach creationism, which the federal courts have repeatedly and consistently ruled to be unconstitutional.

But in Louisiana, the state where a similar academic freedom bill has passed, there have been no lawsuits. After Louisiana passed its academic freedom bill into law in 2008, even the local ACLU Executive Director, Marjorie Esman, reportedly acknowledged that “if the Act is utilized as written, it should be fine.” She was right. To date there has been no legal action against Louisiana’s law or any other academic freedom bill.

That’s one major reason to think this law would provoke no lawsuits. Another reason is that the bill contains an express provision that makes it clear that the law doesn’t protect the teaching of religion:

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.

What this means is that if a teacher were to teach creationism, he or she would be doing so outside of the jurisdiction of the bill, under which the teacher would accordingly have no protection. So there’s no reason to think the law would protect the teaching of creationism in the classroom.

The op-ed continues with more fearmongering:

In 2005, a local school district in Pennsylvania wound up paying over $1 million in a lawsuit over a policy that recommended creationism to its students. Recently, a teacher in Ohio who taught creationism after being instructed by his district not to do so was fired — but the administrative cost of firing him and defending the district against related lawsuits was in excess of $1 million.

But of course those situations are nothing like the situation here, where creationism is entirely unprotected under the text of the law. Do critics of academic freedom have no better argument than this? Seemingly not, or they would tell us what it is.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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