The laws of Tennessee seldom pass unanimously through the chambers of the General Assembly. Debate and differing viewpoints are the lifeblood of the legislative process.
However, when a piece of legislation is so distorted in fact, so misleading in its intent, and so fraught with the potential to do more harm than good to the people and the reputation of Tennessee, it must be shown for what it is.
Such is the case with House Bill 368. Knoxville Republican Rep. Bill Dunn’s bill purports to “protect a teacher from discipline for teaching scientific subjects in an objective manner.” The bill actually is an attempt to discourage and eventually suppress the teaching of evolution.
Even John Washington Butler would be disturbed by this bill. He was the Tennessee state representative who, in 1925, introduced the Butler Act, which criminalized the teaching of evolution or any other principle than the creation story given in the Bible.
That act led to the arrest of biology teacher John Scopes and what became known as the “Scopes Monkey Trial,” one of the more infamous moments in Tennessee’s history.
Butler’s bill, as reactionary as it was even for 1925, at least was clear about its intent. HB 368 expounds on the need “to help students develop critical-thinking skills necessary to becoming intelligent, productive and scientifically informed citizens” and “to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues.”
Those are great and profound goals — all of which already occur daily in public school science classes throughout Tennessee. So why do some legislators feel the need to spell it out?
Because that language is cover for their real intent: to require teachers to concoct a phony debate over evolution, global warming and cloning as being matters of scientific controversy when they are only politically controversial. HB 368 is an embarrassment to all of Tennessee, and it should be sent to extinction. TAS