Tennessee adopts law on teaching of evolution, climate change


Participant Steven Kline (C) of Chattanooga, Tennessee, waits for his turn to spell during day one of the annual National Spelling Bee competition May 31, 2006 in Washington, DC.


Alex Wong

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has let a new law designed to protect teachers who allow students to criticize evolution and other scientific theories, like climate change, come into effect without his signature.

The Republican governor declined to veto the bill, but said in a statement Tuesday that he doesn't believe it accomplished anything that isn't already acceptable in schools, the Associated Press reported.

"The bill received strong bipartisan support, passing the House and Senate by a three-to-one margin," Haslam said in a statement. However, he added: "good legislation should bring clarity and not confusion. My concern is that this bill has not met this objective."

The act has been dubbed the "Monkey Bill" by critics who charge that it is anti-science and will allow backdoor approval of the teaching of religion in schools, according to the Huffington Post.

The terms is a reference to the Scopes "monkey trial" that took place in 1925 in Tennessee, a landmark American legal case in which high school science teacher John Scopes was accused of violating Tennessee's Butler Act, which made it unlawful to teach evolution in any state-funded school.

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The HuffPost quoted Josh Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education as saying last month that the new law "would open the door to creationism, it would open the door to climate change denial, and to other sorts of pseudosciences being introduced into Tennessee classrooms."

NECN, meantime, cited scientists in Tennessee and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have said that evolution is established science that shouldn't be taught as a controversy.

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, said the bill "undermines science education in Tennessee public schools." 

"The new law is effectively a permission slip for teachers to violate the First Amendment by allowing them to dress up their religious beliefs on the origin of life as pseudo-science," Weinberg reportedly said.

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Haslam had said he would probably sign the bill, NECN reported, but last week he was handed a petition with more than 3,000 signatures urging him to veto the "dangerous" measure.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State had joined the ACLU and scientific community in pressuring Haslam to reject the bill.

The new law takes effect April 20.