After a debate reminiscent of the courtroom oratory during the infamous Scopes “Monkey Trial,” the Tennessee Senate killed a bill Thursday that would have let teachers be fired for teaching evolution as fact.
The bill would have allowed, but not required, school boards to fire such teachers for “insubordination.” It was defeated in a 20-13 vote.
Sen. Tommy Burks insisted his bill was a simple attempt to clear up confusion in classrooms where overzealous teachers present evolution as more than a theory.
“Do you believe that you descended from a lower species? I don’t,” argued Burks, a Democrat. “This does not have a religious connotation to it. We’re talking about truth to a child.”
But other senators said the bill was unnecessary and an intrusion by the Legislature into school curriculum.
Sen. Andy Womack, one of the bill’s most vocal opponents, said the input of scientists was in the textbooks, and argued that the Legislature shouldn’t dictate curriculum.
Others worried how constituents would interpret their vote.
“I can’t vote for this bill, but I don’t want anybody to think I don’t know God,” said Lt. Gov. John Wilder, who presided over the debate.
The most famous legal battle over evolution took place in 1925 when Dayton, Tenn., biology teacher John Scopes was convicted in the so-called Monkey Trial. His conviction was later overturned on technicality.