My analysis of the new Tennessee Monkey Law continues today. This post begins with the usual disclaimer as follows:
I am a professional scientist and not an attorney. Please be advised that my analysis below is not intended to be and should not be construed as being legal advice or counsel to anyone. If you are a public school system employee, a parent, or the legal guardian of a child and need legal advice with regard to the content of Public Chapter No. 670 and how it might affect you or someone you know, please contact an attorney who is licensed to practice law in Tennessee.
Just to get you reoriented, the analysis so far has focused only on the three-item preamble to the law, which is a series of “whereas” statements. The third and last whereas statement is examined in this post. It is as follows:
(3) Some teachers may be unsure of the expectation concerning how they should present information when debate and disputation occur on such subjects.
The subject of evolution is so important to the Tennessee General Assembly that it now has “expectations” for how Tennessee public school administrators and teachers will present information to students when doubt and disputation break out in the science classroom.
A literal and inerrant interpretation of Genesis 1 entails religious beliefs. In a series of decisions dating back well into the 1980s, the U.S. Supreme Court has effectively ruled that both creation science and intelligent design (ID) are not science. They and their tenets are religious beliefs. Pick any creationist/ID book, magazine, or website and start reading. You will see numerous scientific looking ideas and arguments designed to discount evolution and preserve a literalist/inerrantist view of Genesis 1. The high court has ruled that all of these junk science ideas are religious ideas and not science ideas, which was and still is a correct ruling by the court. By the way, every creationist/ID argument you will see when you grab that book, magazine, or website has been soundly refuted by legitimate science.
Tennessee public school systems are government entities. The administrators, teachers, and staff are considered to be both government employees and official representatives of the government. The First Amendment to the U.S. constitution states the following:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the establishment clause applies not just to Congress but also to American government at all levels. In effect, as Thomas Jefferson and several other founding fathers believed should be the case, a wall of separation was established between religion and government in the United States. This means it is illegal for a public school administrator or teacher to indoctrinate their students with religious beliefs in the classroom or encourage them to engage in religious behaviors. This includes participating with the students in the organizing and acting out of such behaviors. This is why teachers are not allowed to stand among and pray with the students at a student-volunteered “Meet Me at the Flagpole” prayer event at school.
However, along the way, the high court has also ruled that students may voluntarily initiate their own group prayers at school, pray individually (usually before a math test), and bring their Bible or Koran to school to read during recess or in the library. As you can see, contrary to what you might have heard from assorted propagandists, God; prayer; and religion have not been banned in Tennessee public schools—nor should they be. Just to be clear, the thing that has been banned is this. A Tennessee public school administrator, teacher, or staff member may not dually function in any capacity whatsoever as a religious minister, evangelist, counselor, witness, teacher, youth leader, etc. in front of the children in any Tennessee public school. It is illegal. Period.
Therefore, going back to the Monkey Law, it is illegal for a Tennessee public school science teacher to voluntarily (of his or her own accord) present creation science/ID concepts and tenets to students in a science classroom. They would be teaching a particular set of religious beliefs to their students. If you will look at bolded Item No. 3 (above), you will note that the Tennessee General Assembly does not assume that the teacher will volunteer such religious information to the students first. It knows that would be illegal. Instead, they envision a situation where the students voluntarily initiate their own discussion about creation science/ID and use it to attack evolution. What on Earth is a poor teacher to do when such a thing happens? After all, the U.S. Supreme Court has indeed ruled that students may voluntarily initiate their own religious activities at school.
So, here is the final set up. It is illegal for the teacher to voluntarily teach creation science/ID concepts and tenets in a public school classroom. However, at least arguably, it is not illegal for the children to bring them up voluntarily and use them to criticize evolution. Some kids will be in favor of evolution. Others will be solidly in the creationist/ID camp. The irresistible force meets the immovable object! Matter and antimatter collide! Will the students be annihilated? The Monkey Law expects the teacher to intervene in some way. Will she be annihilated too?
What possible force or spark would act to bring these explosive opposites together in a public school classroom? Sure, the students have their own capacities for thought and initiating a voluntary discussion. But will they? Knowing little on their own about the tenets of creation science/ID or evolution, how would that come about? After all, this is just another generation of American kids where most cannot identify Iowa on an unlabeled map of the United States.
Let me tell you how it is going to happen. In local Tennessee communities, the Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical churches will lay plans to stir up trouble in Tennessee science classrooms in exactly the same way that John T. Scopes and several community leaders in Dayton, Tennessee, did when they met in a local store and hatched plans to test the Butler Act—and put Dayton at center stage before the nation. Can you say: “Sure is hot! Buy my Ice-cream?”
We will see Tennessee churches (possibly advised by out-of-state organizations such as The Discovery Institute) sending preselected students or groups of students into Tennessee science classrooms with well-prepared, thoroughly-laid, highly detailed, and coherently rehearsed plans to stir up classroom trouble in a creation science/ID vs. evolution battle royal. Conspiracy? You bet. For Tennessee and legitimate science, the sad thing here is that the majority in the Tennessee General Assembly is the chief conspirator laying the groundwork and setting the stage for these battles. It wants to see them happen. Despite their oral denials to the contrary and their insertion of some slick smoke-and-mirrors language about religion into the Monkey Law, they despise certain aspects of legitimate science (i.e., evolution, big bang, global warming, etc.) and want to replace them with their own religious ideology and/or that of the people who voted for them.