Tennessee was the center of the national debate when it prosecuted John Thomas Scopes for the crime of teaching evolution. Now, 87 years after the Scopes “monkey trial,” Tennessee is once again a battleground over the origins of man. This month, it enacted a controversial new law — dubbed the “monkey bill” — giving schoolteachers broad new rights to question the validity of evolution and to teach students creationism.
The Tennessee legislature has been on a determined campaign to impose an ideological agenda on the state’s schools. Last week, the house education committee passed the so-called “Don’t say gay” bill, which would make it illegal to teach about homosexuality. The state senate just passed a bill to update the abstinence-based sex-education curriculum to define hand holding as a “gateway sexual activity.”
Unlike those bills, Tennessee’s “monkey bill” is now law. School boards and education administrators are now required to give support to teachers who want to “present the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of various “scientific theories,” including “biological evolution” and “the chemical origins of life.” The new law also supports teachers who want to question accepted scientific thinking on two other hobgoblins of the far right: global warming and human cloning.