As with other anti-evolution bills, Tennessee's seems to be based on sample legislation written and promoted by the pro-ID Discovery Institute.
Sponsor Rep. Bill Dunn (R–Knoxville) said Fowler submitted the legislation to him in early February. The latter's organization is associated with James Dobson's conservative Christian Focus on the Family and advocates for "biblical values" and "godly officials".
Dunn could not explain why a Christian organization would be pushing legislation that supposedly has nothing to do with inserting religion into science class. He referred the question to Fowler.
Fowler, who would not say whether he is a young earth creationist ("I think that's irrelevant," he noted), said he is trying to correct the "dogmatic" presentation of science in the classroom. "This is about open discourse," he said, adding, "Good education requires critical thinking."
Fowler has spoken with members of the Discovery Institute—he would not say specifically whom—and said he drafted the Tennessee bill based on sample legislation the Institute created.
Dunn explains: "We've reversed the roles of the Scopes Trial. All we're saying is let's put all the scientific facts on the table."
Dunn said the bill would not allow the teaching of intelligent design. But in his Chattanoogan op–ed piece Fowler specifically says it would protect a teacher who wanted to teach the concept, which a federal court ruled unconstitutional in Kitzmiller v. Dover.
"The bill is likely to result in significant violations of students' and parents' First Amendment rights," says Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee. "It is not necessary; and it threatens to undermine science education across the state, endangering the educational and employment futures of Tennessee's students as well as the state's own economic and job prospects."
With 60 percent of U.S. public high school biology teachers are already shying away from evolution in the classroom, according to the results of a recent Pennsylvania State University survey, these anti-evolution bills send a warning message to ambivalent teachers to avoid the subject, Rosenau said.
Separation of church and state
While the fight heats up in Tennessee, anti-evolution battles continue in other states.
Next month, Texas's SBOE will begin the four-month review process of "supplemental materials," which will be used in place of costly new science textbooks. The creationist sympathies of several members of a board-appointed volunteer review panel have raised questions about whether the SBOE intends to use these additional publications to eventually open a door to creationism and ID-friendly materials into the classroom.
Meanwhile, in Louisiana a 17-year-old Baton Rouge Magnet High School student has begun a long-shot campaign to get lawmakers to repeal the state's anti-evolution law. Zack Kopplin has lined up support of one senator, who has said she is willing to introduce the legislation. Gene Mills of the Louisiana Family Forum (also affiliated with Focus on the Family) said he welcomes the attempt. "It's healthy to have discussions," Mills says, "but I don't think it's going anywhere."