A couple weeks ago, the second creationist bill of the “academic freedom” generation became law. You’d think Casey Luskin, who seems to be the ringleader of the clowns pushing these bills, would be thrilled. But all he can seem to do is find reasons to be upset.
First he was angry that Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam let the bill become law, but did so without signing it. Haslam’s statement refusing to sign the bill observed that, by the defenders’ own argument, the bill was essentially powerless, while there are ways in which it could make things worse. Noting that laws ought to “bring clarity and not confusion,” and that the Monkey Bill did neither, Haslam declined to sign the bill.
Rather than graciously accepting his legislative victory, Casey chose instead to berate the Governor.
Now Casey is upset that Media Matters for America applied critical thinking to claims by bill defenders. MMFA first dissected the Discovery Institute’s history and the agenda these bills help Disco. serve. They then took a close look at the history of creationist bills leading up to the Monkey Bill.
Casey objects to the pieces largely because they insist that the bill would allow creationism into classrooms. MMFA quotes an interview with me, where I explained the threat:
because so many key terms are undefined, it’s easy to see how a teacher could offer a creationist lesson, or one denying the reality or human causation of climate change, and refuse to drop that lesson by citing this law. A parent’s objections, or clear instructions from a supervisor, could be waved away with the claim that any such interference would violate this provision of the law.
Casey objects, claiming:
Too bad there’s a small detail that undercuts Media Matters’s fundamental argument: Tennessee’s law contains an express provision stating that it does not protect the teaching of religion (including creationism), and only protects the teaching of science:
“This section only protects the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion.”
As MMFA notes, similar disclaimers existed in the last generation of creationist laws, which were struck down by the courts nonetheless. In the Arkansas case challenging the state’s Act 590 â which stated “This Act does not require or permit instruction in any religious doctrine or materials” â the court ruled that such a disclaimer was irrelevant, since the requirement to teach creationism (or cease teaching evolution) was inevitably religious:
The Act is self-contradictory and compliance is impossible unless the public schools elect to forego significant potions of subjects such as biology, world history, geology, zoology, botany, psychology, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, physics and chemistry. …There is no way teachers can teach the Genesis account of creation in a secular manner. …
References to the pervasive nature of religious concepts in creation science texts amply demonstrate why State entanglement with religion is inevitable under Act 590. Involvement of the State in screening texts for impermissible religious references will require State officials to make delicate religious judgments. The need to monitor classroom discussion in order to uphold the Act’s prohibition against religious instruction will necessarily involve administrators in questions concerning religion. These continuing involvements of State officials in questions and issues of religion create an excessive and prohibited entanglement with religion.
Of course, creationists of the day insisted that creation science wasn’t religious. But the judge was able to see through that claim. Similarly, a judge in Pennsylvania saw through the claim that ID isn’t creationism, and judges in Tennessee and Louisiana and elsewhere will see through such claims about teaching long-refuted creationist attacks on evolution. As the Supreme Court said in 1987’s Edwards v. Aguillard:
While the Court is normally deferential to a State’s articulation of a secular purpose, it is required that the statement of such purpose be sincere and not a sham.…
The Act does not grant teachers a flexibility that they did not already possess to supplant the present science curriculum with the presentation of theories, besides evolution, about the origin of life. Indeed, the Court of Appeals found that no law prohibited Louisiana public school teachers from teaching any scientific theory. As the president of the Louisiana Science Teachers Association testified, “[a]ny scientific concept that’s based on established fact can be included in our curriculum already, and no legislation allowing this is necessary.” The Act provides Louisiana schoolteachers with no new authority. Thus the stated purpose is not furthered by it. …
…we need not be blind in this case to the legislature’s preeminent religious purpose in enacting this statute. There is a historic and contemporaneous link between the teachings of certain religious denominations and the teaching of evolution. It was this link that concerned the Court in Epperson v. Arkansas, which also involved a facial challenge to a statute regulating the teaching of evolution. … Although the Arkansas antievolution law did not explicitly state its predominate religious purpose, the Court could not ignore that “[t]he statute was a product of the upsurge of ‘fundamentalist’ religious fervor” that has long viewed this particular scientific theory as contradicting the literal interpretation of the Bible. After reviewing the history of antievolution statutes, the Court determined that “there can be no doubt that the motivation for the [Arkansas] law was the same [as other antievolution statutes]: to suppress the teaching of a theory which, it was thought, ‘denied’ the divine creation of man.” Id., at 109. The Court found that there can be no legitimate state interest in protecting particular religions from scientific views “distasteful to them,” and concluded “that the First Amendment does not permit the State to require that teaching and learning must be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma.”
These same historic and contemporaneous antagonisms between the teachings of certain religious denominations and the teaching of evolution are present in this case. The preeminent purpose of the Louisiana Legislature was clearly to advance the religious viewpoint that a supernatural being created humankind.…
The legislative history documents that the Act’s primary purpose was to change the science curriculum of public schools in order to provide persuasive advantage to a particular religious doctrine that rejects the factual basis of evolution in its entirety.…
In this case, the purpose of the Creationism Act was to restructure the science curriculum to conform with a particular religious viewpoint. Out of many possible science subjects taught in the public schools, the legislature chose to affect the teaching of the one scientific theory that historically has been opposed by certain religious sects. As in Epperson, the legislature passed the Act to give preference to those religious groups which have as one of their tenets the creation of humankind by a divine creator. The “overriding fact” that confronted the Court in Epperson was “that Arkansas’ law selects from the body of knowledge a particular segment which it proscribes for the sole reason that it is deemed to conflict with … a particular interpretation of the Book of Genesis by a particular religious group.” Similarly, the Creationism Act is designed either to promote the theory of creation science which embodies a particular religious tenet by requiring that creation science be taught whenever evolution is taught or to prohibit the teaching of a scientific theory disfavored by certain religious sects by forbidding the teaching of evolution when creation science is not also taught.
Given that the Tennessee Monkey Bill’s legislative history shows its advocates focusing on evolution in the same way that creationists in Louisiana and Arkansas did, and that members of the public testifying in the bill’s favor included an officer of a local creationist society and others who invoked Genesis and Sunday school lesson, and that the state teachers’ association again objected that the law gave teachers no new powers, it won’t be hard for courts to reach the same conclusion about this bill that they have about previous creationist bills. The fact that there is such a disclaimer will be irrelevant.
Indeed, the fact that the Discovery Institute model legislation includes such a disclaimer is a red flag. Most bills don’t include such efforts to hide their agenda from courts â the bill’s intent speaks for itself. Saying “This bill isn’t unconstitutional” should just draw greater scrutiny from legislators, like a declaration “I’m not racist…” is a tipoff that someone’s about to say something incredibly racist.
Oddly, even after having quoted the disclaimer, Casey proceeds to get it wrong, claiming it “expressly prohibits the teaching of creationism.” It doesn’t, at best it prohibits creationism implicitly, and that’s only if one accepts the courts’ rulings that creationism is religion. The Monkey Bill claims not to protect the teaching of religious doctrines, but so did previous laws that explicitly stated their goal as teaching creationism, so how much credibility should we even give that?
Interestingly, ID creationist Caroline Crocker and other bill defenders have claimed that the bill “explicitly prevents the teaching of creation or even ID.” This would seem to be an admission that ID is a religious doctrine, just as Casey’s statement grants that creationism is religious.