My analysis of the new Tennessee Monkey Law continues in Part III 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.
Today we begin looking at the meat and potatoes of the new law. Here is the first piece of meat, or maybe this thing is a spud:
(a) The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, directors of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about scientific subjects required to be taught under the curriculum framework developed by the state board of education.
If you watched the PBS NOVA film in my last post, you already know that essentially every science teacher at the local high school in Dover, Pennsylvania, was opposed to teaching creation science/intelligent design (ID) from the very beginning. They recognized that neither is real science. The rural population in the Dover area was just about as heavily Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical as Tennessee. If any of you have ever read the letters to the editor in a Tennessee newspaper or listened to local conservative talk radio, you know that nearly all students who graduate from a Tennessee college or university (state or private) are hopelessly brainwashed by an insidious and all-pervasive force known as “liberalism.” Doggone it. When they leave for college, they are a son or daughter. Four years later, they come back home as one of the dreaded “educated elites.” Therefore, one would expect most public school science teachers in Tennessee to feel the same about real science as those in Dover.
Section (a) of the Tennessee Monkey Law is telling public school officials to inform their science teachers that they cannot let their own personal commitment to the scientific truth of evolution create a classroom environment of subtle or overt intimidation that might discourage or prevent some students from voluntarily raising religion-based objections to evolution. Therefore, all students can then feel more relaxed and free to initiate attacks on the tenets of evolution, which must be taught under the approved state science curriculum. Now, one would think that the “respond appropriately and respectfully” language means that the students who are opposed to evolution must leave their switchblades and nunchucks (figuratively speaking) at home on days when they plan to be openly critical of Darwin’s ideas in science class. I have serious doubts that such rhetorically oriented items (e.g., harsh derision and sarcasm) would be left at home on those days because the crowd in question knows that real weapons are always required to attack Godlessness, which must be gone after viciously and with a direct drive toward rendering a death blow. No matter what the creationist/ID students dish out against evolution or how viciously they do it, the science teachers must stand there silently and absorb all the attacks without any negative response to the creation science/ID points. The only attacks being hurled at evolution will be the classic talking points of creation science/ID because no real and valid scientific talking points against evolution exist in the actual scientific world.
Now, do you remember what we learned in Part II of my analysis? High court rulings involving the First Amendment forbid a public school science teacher to teach a particular religion or otherwise encourage the practice of one in class. Concomitantly, they forbid a science teacher to criticize or denigrate the personal religious beliefs of a student. Stop and absorb that one for a moment. The U.S. Supreme Court has defined the tenets of creation science/ID as religion. Therefore, the teacher is forbidden by law to critique any of the many religion-based creation science/ID criticisms being thrown at evolution because they are the personal religious beliefs of the students. Really, about the only thing the science teacher can legally do is to keep the two student sides (if two exist) from coming at each other with bullying maneuvers, fists, and weapons. This was a master stroke move by the Tennessee General Assembly because it effectively converts past high court rulings against creation science/ID into weapons that can be used to support creation science/ID.
Over the past several weeks, I have seen newspaper pieces and various items on the Internet where assorted Tennessee college professors, practicing scientists, science teachers, and ordinary citizens have opined that the Monkey Law is actually a blessing in disguise for real science. They state that it gives Tennessee science teachers a blank check to go into a science classroom, write the tenets of evolution on one side of the whiteboard, write the tenets of creation science/ID on the other side of the whiteboard, initiate a critical comparison of the two, and therein use the tenets of evolution to quite literally rip the living guts out of creation science/ID right in front of all the students. I have seen no such grandiose expressions written by lawyers—and with good reason. Doing this has always been illegal, it is illegal now, and it will continue to be illegal as long as the First Amendment and its associated high court rulings are still in place as they are now. This would be true even if the Tennessee Monkey Law had never existed. Under the First Amendment, no Tennessee school administrator or teacher has the right to criticize student-held religious tenets in this way or any other way. It would land them and the school system in U.S. District Court so fast their heads would swim. Loss of the case would be a near certainty, and court costs and legal fees could run about $1.2 million.
Here is one of the principal problems I am seeing with those who are trying to understand the Tennessee Monkey Law, and this refers to both sides in the squabble. They are forgetting the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. constitution and viewing the new state law as if it exists alone—and all powerful—by itself. It most certainly does not. The U.S. constitution, past federal court rulings, federal statutes, and federal regulations trump every word in the new law. No state law has the power to countermand federal law. A particular state law can be more stringent on some particular point than in a similar federal law, but it cannot overrule the requirements of the federal law. Federal law and state law must be read together with the understanding that the federal law is always supreme. Failure to bear this simple fact in mind could lead many Tennessee school administrators and teachers into undreamed of personal and institutional legal woes if they are not careful. This applies to both evolutionist school teachers and creation science/ID school teachers.
Some old guy out there on the Tennessee landscape just read that last paragraph and said, “Do you mean to tell me that…?” Yes sir, I most certainly do.