Boos for Tennessee's monkey law

With Governor Bill Haslam's April 10, 2012, decision to allow Tennessee's House Bill 368 — nicknamed "the monkey bill" — to become law without his signature, comment is coming fast and furious. The new law encourages teachers in the state's public schools to present the "scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses" of topics that arouse "debate and disputation" such as "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." A sampling of the commentary follows.

  • "The American Society of Human Genetics ... is disappointed with Tennessee's enactment of a bill that will weaken science instruction in Tennessee's public schools and possibly serve as a model for other states. The law claims to support the development of critical-thinking skills, but the effect of the 'strengths and weaknesses' argument used in the law will be to weaken students' already poor understanding of evolution — the foundation of modern biology."
    — The American Society of Human Genetics, in a statement (PDF) issued on April 11, 2012
  • "Because of the press surrounding the past Monkey bill, the evolution bill now makes it look as if Tennessee has moved backwards instead of forwards in terms of science education. ... Anything that takes time away from teaching sound science is going to hurt students and their abilities to understand the rest of science."
    — Larisa DeSantis of the Department of Earth and Environment at Vanderbilt University, quoted in Inside Vandy (April 11, 2012)
  • "Previous attempts over evolution have been soundly defeated over and over again ...They say bringing up these controversies will help your mind, as if these kids are in any position to judge the merits of this or anything else controversial."
    — David Hill, quoted in the Memphis Commercial Appeal (April 10, 2012).
  • "It was presented as giving more flexibility to teachers to discuss controversies, but really this has always been about evolution ... This has always been a way for teachers to interject their religious viewpoints if they contradict evolution."
    — Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, quoted by the Nashville Tennessean (April 11, 2012)
  • "This new law allows — indeed, encourages — teachers who are already inclined to attack evolution and climate science to do so. Unlucky students may be subjected to creationist or climate-change-denying rants from their teachers. And if students or parents object, the law forbids school boards and administrators from doing anything about it."
    — NCSE's Steven Newton, writing at the Huffington Post (April 11, 2012)
  • "I think two 'monkey bills' in a century has got to be up there in terms of how people see Tennessee, and that's unfortunate because there's great science that goes on there."
    — NCSE's Joshua Rosenau, quoted in the Chattanooga Times Free Press (April 11, 2012)
  • "HB 368 and other bills like it are a permission slip for teachers to bring creationism, climate-change denial and other non-science into science classrooms."
    — NCSE's Eugenie C. Scott, quoted in Nature (April 11, 2012)
  • "The new Tennessee law does not ban the teaching of evolution as the old law had. Its supporters contend that it will allow the expansion of scientific views in the classroom. What it does do is allow doubt to be injected into areas of science in which scientists say there really isn't any. It allows creationism and evolution to be debated side by side in a science classroom, which is just plain wrong, even if the Tennessee legislature thinks otherwise."
    — Valerie Strauss, writing in the Washington Post (April 11, 2012)
  • "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."
    — Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, quoted in the Los Angeles Times (April 11, 2012)
  • "With all the emphasis now on science, math and technology, this seems like a real step backwards ... Tennessee was the focus of this debate in the 1920s and we don't need to be turning the clock back now."
    — Jerry Winters, director of government relations for the Tennessee Education Association, quoted by Reuters (April 11, 2012)