One Tennessee School Board’s Secret Plan to Short-Circuit the Monkey Law

DISCLAIMER: 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.

I feel sure some city and county school systems in Tennessee are really fired up about the Monkey Law and cannot wait until school starts in August 2012 so they can get behind the wheel of the new law and take her for a spin around the creation science/ID block. As we already suspect, several of them will eventually smack the federal wall at 90 mph with no seat belt.

Some other Tennessee public school systems have developed plans to circumvent compliance with a state law that they already know is unconstitutional and hence illegal. One Superintendent of Schools in Tennessee has already provided me with the broad outlines of how such a strategy might look, without stating it to me in any outright detail.  In other words, any idiot could use his broad outline hints to accurately flesh out the strategy for themselves.  Because I know people from one end of Tennessee to the other, you will never know where I got these hints, and I have promised to never tell a soul. Here is the overall strategy that I deciphered from the hints.

The school system in question is committed to teaching the approved Tennessee state science curriculum, which includes evolution.  Recent provisions of the Tennessee Monkey Law are not part of the official state science curriculum. The school system is committed to teaching the official curriculum only.  Consequently, science teachers will be forbidden to voluntarily teach or otherwise engage in implementing the provisions of the new law in their science classes.

If you look at the text of the Tennessee Monkey Law, you will notice that it has no specified penalties for failing to comply.  On the other hand, a long string of federal court cases makes it clear that voluntarily teaching the arguments and critiques of evolution according to creation science/ID can result in expensive and very uncomfortable results.  The cost can be up to $1.2 million, and the federal court usually issues a list of henceforth legally forbidden actions related to religion and creation science/ID.  If the teachers and their administrators fail to abide by the listed items, the U.S. District Court judge can hold them in contempt of court, fine them, and send them to prison.

Theoretically, a creation science/ID teacher could sue the school system for not allowing her to voluntarily teach creation science/ID critiques of evolution under the Monkey Law, and a state judge could issue his own set of restrictive requirements for having disobeyed state law.  However, at this point, the school system would file suit against the teacher and the State of Tennessee in U.S. District Court.  Argument:  “My state passed a law that in effect forces our school system to violate the First Amendment to the U.S. constitution and the rights of our students and parents who want nothing to do with creation science/ID (religious) critiques of evolution.”  After all, if the school system is going to end up in an expensive court case regardless, why not take them to U.S. District Court where the judge is nearly certain to ream their behinds with the First Amendment and declare the Monkey Law to be unconstitutional.  Now, that takes care of the renegade science teacher who wants to bring the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) view of evolution into the science classroom.  What about the student that voluntarily raises creation science/ID critiques of evolution in the classroom?

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that students may practice their own religion voluntarily at school.  As mentioned in my earlier posts, they may pray on their own, bring their Bibles to school and read them at recess, and so forth.  However, in so doing, the high court put a formal legal caveat on this.  They may do so as long as the religious actions do not disrupt the normal educational process and school day.  Because the provisions of the Tennessee Monkey Law are not part of the state curriculum, any student who brings up creation science/ID critiques of evolution in science class will be officially regarded as initiating a disruption in the normal procession of the class, a disruption that could have immediate negative consequences and later land the school system in U.S. District Court.

For those students or groups of students who have been coached by a Christian fundamentalist or conservative evangelical church on how to create such disruptions in class, the operative assumption will be that these kids have come to school with the premeditated, planned, and willful purpose of picking a fight with the teacher and other students over religion and evolution in science class.  As we all know, it is not nice to pick a fight in class.  Such fights have the potential to be very heated, disruptive, and hurtful. For example, over the years, IFB students have been taught a lot of hatred for both evolution and Roman Catholics at their home churches.  The Roman Catholic students made peace with Charles Darwin long ago and know how poorly the IFB students regard them.  This thing could come to fists before the bell rings if the teacher does not defuse it early.

The creation science/ID disruption would be managed by school policies and rules—just like punching a student in the nose, cussing out a teacher, or wearing inappropriate clothing to school.  If some creation science/ID teacher, parent, student, or the State of Tennessee does not think this should be counted as a disruption because of the Monkey Law, they can take the school system to state court.  However, if the school system is going to end up in an expensive court case regardless, they will instead take the troublemakers and the State of Tennessee to U.S. District Court where the federal judge is nearly certain to ream their behinds thoroughly with the First Amendment and declare the Monkey Law to be unconstitutional.

School system wins.  Monkey Law loses.

That concludes my discussion about the Tennessee Monkey Law. The rest is Tennessee history that will be written sometime in the future.  If history is as much fun to me as it is to you, it will be interesting and entertaining to see how it all unfolds.  We get back to Tennessee archaeology next time.

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