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Tennessee antievolution bill passes the House

Tennessee's House Bill 368 passed the House of Representatives on a 70-23 vote on April 7, 2011. "The debate ranged over the scientific method, 'intellectual bullies,' hair spray and 'Inherit the Wind,'" reported the Chattanooga Times Free Press (April 7, 2011).

The bill, if enacted, would require state and local educational authorities to "assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies" and permit teachers to "help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught." The only examples provided of "controversial" theories are "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning." The sponsor of HB 368, Bill Dunn (R-District 16), claimed that the teaching of "intelligent design" would not be protected by the bill. Its chief lobbyist, David Fowler of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, claimed otherwise in the Chattanoogan (February 21, 2011).

The Tennessean (in its editorial of March 29, 2011), the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee have all expressed their opposition to HB 368, with the Tennessee Science Teachers Association — representing the supposed beneficiaries of the bill — characterizing it as "unnecessary, anti-scientific, and very likely unconstitutional." The TSTA's Becky Ashe, who is also the executive director of curriculum and instruction for Knox County Schools, told the Knoxville Metro Pulse (April 6, 2011) that in her decade of service there, no teacher has been disciplined for mentioning alternative beliefs to evolution in the classroom. She added that the science standards already emphasize critical thinking, making the bill completely unnecessary.

The Senate version of the bill, SB 893, was discussed, but not voted on, by the Senate Education Committee on March 30, 2011; according to the Metro Pulse, a committee vote is not expected until April 20, 2011.