Tennessee creationist measure losing steam?

03.22.2007

Tennessee's Senate Resolution 17 -- which, if enacted, would request the commissioner of education to justify the fact that creationism is not taught in the state's public schools -- may be constitutional, but its sponsor, Senator Raymond Finney (R-District 8), says that he is not sure whether to continue advocating it. The Associated Press (March 1, 2007) reported [Link broken] that Senator Shea Flinn (D-District 30) asked the state's attorney general to investigate whether the bill would violate the United States constitution as well as the Tennessee constitution, which bans religious tests for public office holders. "The resolution in question requests our commissioner of the Department of Education to opine 'conclusively' on the origin of our universe and the existence of a Supreme Being," Flinn wrote in his request to the attorney general.

In its March 13, 2007 opinion, the attorney general's office replied (PDF), "Senate Resolution 17 violates neither the Establishment Clause Constitution, nor Article I, Section 4 of the Tennessee Constitution." The opinion noted that SR 17, if enacted, would neither establish any law or statute nor impose any sanctions or penalties; moreover, it identified no particular religious belief as desired or preferred. The opinion added, "there is no indication that the resolution is intended to attack the Commissioner of the Department of Education's qualifications for her position, nor any suggestion that the Commissioner's position is dependent upon responding to the questions in a specific manner." In passing, the opinion also observed, "the resolution clearly appears to constitute a rhetorical device designed to advocate the teaching of creationism as an alternative to the theory of evolution."

Despite the attorney general's opinion, Finney told [Link broken] the Associated Press (March 14, 2007), "I'm not sure I'm going forward with that ... I'm probably going to reword it anyway. This may not be the time and place for that." Finney cited a heavy legislative workload, but also suggested that he worded the resolution infelicitously, saying, "I probably made a mistake in approaching it from a creation aspect, which raises red flags ... People get so sensitive about whether children might be exposed to any sort of religious thing." But in a story in the Marysville Daily Times (March 14, 2007), he was quoted as saying, "It's not as extremist as you think it is ...What is clearly demonstrable is that evolution can be disproven using statistical methods. I can't prove religion, but evolution can be disproved."