A bill that would allow teachers to encourage students to critique existing scientific theories such as evolution and global warming was passed by the Tennessee State Senate this week.
SB 893, passed on Monday evening, was the Senate version of an older Tenn. House of Representatives bill, HB 368, which passed the House in 2011 and remained in stasis until this year.
State Senator Bo Watson (R-Hixson), the sponsor of SB 893, told The Christian Post that the bill does not mandate the teaching of creation science.
"It does not change the curriculum established by the Tennessee board of education. Creation science, creationism, intellectual design and other ideas are not part of the state's curriculum," said Watson.
"What the bill does do is allow under the curriculum framework of the state board of education teachers to respond to the debate and dispute that may occur when certain scientific subjects are taught in the classroom."
Watson stressed that the bill would be "directed at improving the critical thinking skills of students and their ability to analyze information."
"It came to my attention that some teachers did not know how to respond when certain scientific theories were disputed in the classroom," said Watson.
"On the one hand they wanted to engage the student(s) in a dialogue, but on the other hand did not want to appear to be teaching inappropriate information. The bill seeks to remedy this conundrum. "
Despite the disclaimers about not changing the science curriculum in public schools, many organizations expressed concern over the bill. Among them was Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Joseph Conn, a spokesman for Americans United, told CP that the bill was "a backdoor effort to smuggle religion into public school science classes."
"Right forces are camouflaging religious doctrines as 'creation science' or 'intelligent design' and trying to slip those concepts into the curriculum," said Conn.
"That undercuts the separation of church and state and threatens the academic integrity of the classroom. Families should be in charge of children's religious training, not public school teachers."
Conn also felt that should the bill become law, there would be a strong chance of legal action on the part of church-state watchdog organizations.
"If this bill results in the teaching of religion in public school science classes, there is certain to be a lawsuit," said Conn.
"The federal courts have repeatedly ruled that public schools may not attempt to indoctrinate children in religious beliefs."
Watson felt that the bill would do more to encourage critical thinking among students in science classes regarding the ongoing debate over origins.
"[SB 893] makes very clear that religious or non-religious doctrine are not part of the science education," said Watson.
"During discussion and debate teachers will have teachable moments for students to learn about empirical evidence, the scientific method, and other basic concepts of science and scientific inquiry."