Yesterday, after the new, bold Gov. Bill Haslam announced he would withhold his signature from the so-called "Monkey Bill," allowing it to pass into law anyway, sponsor Bo Watson defended it. (See video above.) In announcing the decision, Haslam repeated his belief that the legislation does not change the state's current curriculum or scientific standards, adding that he doesn't believe "it accomplishes anything that isn't already acceptable in our schools."
We've reached out to the Department of Education about the bill, but haven't gotten any answers yet.
In any event, Haslam seems to be partially correct on what the bill won't do (though that's just another reason he could have raised his executive right hand and swatted this thing back to the legislature). The legislation does not appear to specifically change any of the state's curriculum or, say, drop a section on creationism into textbooks. But that's not what its critics have been saying it does, anyway. Their concern is that by saying there are "scientific weaknesses" where, they argue, none exist, and by opening the door to discussions about non-scientific ideas, the bill allows for a false equivalence between ideas that are provable by science and those that are not.
Reaction from the usual suspects came in a little late yesterday. Probably because press releases which had been written for weeks had to be reworked to reflect his gubernatorial shoulder-shrug. The American Civil Liberties Union was soon filling up our inbox, though. Their full release, below:
Today a bill that undermines science education in Tennessee public schools by effectively granting permission for teachers to bring religion into the classroom became law, without Governor Haslam’s signature.
Under the pretext of fostering critical thinking, HB 368/SB 0893 states that teachers must be allowed to discuss "weaknesses" in scientific theories such as evolution and other scientific subjects that "cause debate and disputation" — calling their validity into question. Terms such as "strengths and weaknesses" and "critical thinking" are frequently used by those seeking to introduce nonscientific ideas such as creationism and intelligent design into the science curriculum.
In addition to ACLU-TN, numerous prestigious science and education organizations have also opposed the bill, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the National Earth Science Teachers Association and the Tennessee Science Teachers Association.
The following can be attributed to Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee:
“We respect Governor Haslam for showing leadership in not signing this legislation. But that doesn’t change the fact that Tennessee now has a law on the books essentially granting permission for teachers to violate the First Amendment by introducing their own personal religious beliefs on the origin of life into the classroom.”
And lastly, reaction from this Orangutan: