Tennessee Enacts Academic Freedom Law Protecting Teachers Who Present Both Sides of Evolution Debate

Staff
Discovery Institute
April 10, 2012
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Nashville – Today Tennessee became the latest state to enact an academic freedom bill that protects teachers when they promote critical thinking and objective discussion about controversial science issues such as biological evolution, climate change and human cloning. At least ten states now have statewide science standards or laws that protect or encourage teachers to discuss the scientific evidence for and against Darwinian evolution.

Teachers in Tennessee are still required to teach according to state and local science standards. But under the law, teachers are allowed to objectively present additional scientific evidence, analysis, and critiques regarding topics already in the approved curriculum.

"More than 85 years ago, Tennessee teacher John Scopes appealed for the right to teach students all of the scientific evidence," said Dr. John West, Associate Director of Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture. "This historic bill now secures that right. It's ironic that many of today's defenders of evolution have abandoned Scopes' plea for free discussion and are pushing for censorship and intolerance in the classroom instead."

“This law is needed for two reasons,” explained Casey Luskin an attorney with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture. “First, unfortunately many science teachers around the country are harassed, intimidated, and sometimes fired for simply presenting scientific evidence critical of Darwinian theory along with the evidence that supports it."

“Second, many school administrators and teachers are fearful or confused about what is legally allowed when teaching about controversial scientific issues like evolution,” Luskin added.  “This legislation makes it clear what Tennessee teachers may be allowed to do.”

Darwin-only lobbyists launched a misinformation and scare campaign in an effort to encourage Governor Bill Haslam to veto the bill. Haslam ultimately allowed the bill to become law without his signature. Critics falsely claimed that the bill promotes religion instead of science, and asserted that jobs would be lost due to the law’s passage, and threatened costly lawsuits.

“First, the bill expressly states that it ‘shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine,’” explained Luskin. “Second, in places like Texas and Louisiana that have similar legislation or science standards there has been no negative economic impact at all. Contrary to critics, no lawsuits have materialized in other states or districts with such policies in place.”

The Tennessee House and Senate passed the bill with overwhelming support. Tennessee’s law is similar to an academic freedom policy adopted in 2008 by Louisiana, known as the Louisiana Science Education Act.

This year, four states have considered academic freedom legislation designed to protect teachers who teach both the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory.  Many of the bills have been adapted from sample legislation developed by Discovery Institute, including a model statute posted online at www.academicfreedompetition.com.