Proposed bill's
intention is to push
a religious agenda

 
Written by

Hedy Weinberg

2:33 AM, Mar. 11, 2011|

 
Eighty-six years ago, on March 13, 1925,
the Tennessee General Assembly passed
the Butler Act making it "unlawful … to
teach any theory that denies the story of
the divine creation of man as taught in the
Bible and to teach instead that man has
descended from a lower order of animals.''

Although the Butler Act was repealed in
1967, the Tennessee General Assembly is
now deliberating about legislation that
would allow public school science teachers
to teach religious doctrine about the origin
of humankind. Contrary to the bill's
sponsors, the sole purpose of
HB368/SB893 is to thwart the teaching of
the theory of evolution.

Tennessee has long been involved in a
curriculum struggle about teaching science
and religion in public schools. In the well
known "Scopes Monkey Trial,'' American
Civil Liberties Union volunteer attorney
Clarence Darrow represented high school
teacher John Scopes who had violated the
Butler Act by teaching the theory of
evolution. The anti-evolutionists won the
case and the Butler Act remained in place
for four decades.
 
Six years after the repeal of the Butler Act,
the state legislature again tried to suppress
the teaching of the theory of evolution in
public schools; they passed a statute
barring public school use of any textbook
teaching the theory of evolution "unless it
specifically stated that it is a theory as to
the origin and creation of man and his
world and is not represented to be
scientific fact'' and unless equal time was
devoted to creationism. The U.S. Court of
Appeals for the Sixth Circuit flatly rejected
the law, holding that it was "obviously in
violation of the First Amendment.'' Since
then, the federal courts have been
unequivocally clear that efforts to inject
religious beliefs regarding the origin of life
into public school science curricula are
unconstitutional.

HB368/SB893 is the latest line of attack
against the theory of evolution. Under the
pretext of fostering "academic freedom''
and "critical thinking,'' the legislation would
authorize teachers to present lessons
regarding so-called "scientific
controversies,'' calling into question the
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validity of the scientific theory of evolution
by examining its alleged "strengths'' and
"weaknesses.''

 
Bill will harm students

 
No one doubts the value of critical thinking
to any serious course of scientific study, but
this legislation is not aimed at developing
students' critical thinking skills. Rather, it
seeks to subvert scientific principle to
religious ideology by granting legal cover to
teachers who wish to dress up religious
beliefs regarding the origin of life as
pseudo-science.

By allowing teachers to deviate from this
science curriculum, we take the risk that
our students will be unprepared for
advanced college coursework in science,
and we disadvantage them in our
increasingly competitive global economy.

Passage of this legislation will have serious
consequences for the future well-being of
our children, our economy and our state
overall.

As the Supreme Court explained in  
Edwards v. Aguillard
, "(f)amilies entrust
public schools with the education of their
children, but condition their trust on the
understanding that the classroom will not
purposely be used to advance religious
views that may conflict with the private
beliefs of the student and his or her
family.'' We also entrust the public schools
to prepare our children for higher
education and success in the job market.
HB 368 and SB 893 represent a betrayal of
that trust and must be rejected by our
 
legislature.

Hedy Weinberg is executive director of
the American Civil Liberties Union —
Tennessee.

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