Tennessee’s Republican governor says he will let a bill become law effective April 20 that protects teachers who allow students in their classrooms to criticize evolution and other scientific theories, such as global climate change.
Gov. Bill Haslam had said previously he would probably sign the bill. On April 10, he disclosed he would let the law take effect without his signature, saying he believes the legislation doesn’t change science standards currently taught in Tennessee’s public schools.
Tennessee was the state where the nation’s first big legal battle over evolution was fought nearly 90 years ago.
Supporters say the legislation is intended to help students think critically.
Critics derided the legislation as the “monkey bill” for attacking evolution. The state held the famous Scopes “monkey trial” in 1925 in Dayton, Tenn., and opponents of the legislation say evolution is still under attack in 2012.
School teacher John Scopes was convicted of violating a state statute by teaching evolution in biology class and fined $100. The Tennessee Supreme Court overturned it on a technicality a year later. In 1967, Tennessee’s anti-evolution law was revoked.
Haslam on April 10 explained why he was letting the bill become law without his signature. He said he doesn’t believe the legislation changes science standards currently taught in Tennessee, nor does it accomplish anything that isn’t already acceptable in schools.
“The bill received strong bipartisan support, passing the House and Senate … but good legislation should bring clarity and not confusion,” Haslam noted in a statement. “My concern is that this bill has not met this objective.”
Last week, the governor was handed a petition with more than 3,000 signatures urging him to veto the legislation. Some contend the measure could open the door for religious teaching in the classroom.
Meanwhile, backers said it would encourage critical thinking by protecting teachers from discipline if they help students critique “scientific weaknesses.”
Scientists in Tennessee and the American Association for the Advancement of Science say evolution is established science that shouldn’t be taught as a controversy.