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Climate, evolution at heart of state bill

Sat., April 7, 2012, midnight

WASHINGTON – Tennessee is poised to adopt a law that would allow public school teachers to challenge climate change and evolution in their classrooms without fear of sanction, according to educators and civil libertarians in the state.

Passed by the state Legislature and awaiting Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature, the measure is likely to stoke growing concerns among science teachers around the country that teaching climate science is becoming the same kind of classroom and community flash point as evolution. If it becomes law, Tennessee will become the second state, after Louisiana, to allow the teaching of alternatives to accepted science on climate change.

The Tennessee measure does not require the teaching of alternatives to scientific theories of evolution, climate change, human cloning and “the chemical origins of life.” Instead, the legislation would prevent school administrators from reining in teachers who expound on alternative hypotheses.

The measure’s primary sponsor, Republican state Sen. Bo Watson, said it was meant to give teachers the clarity and security to discuss alternative ideas to evolution and climate change that students may have picked up at home and want to explore in class.

The bill’s critics, which include the Tennessee Science Teachers Association and the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, counter that teachers currently have no problem addressing unconventional ideas and challenges students bring up. They argue, instead, that the measure gives legal cover to teachers to introduce pseudo-scientific ideas to students, and they have asked the governor to veto it.

Haslam has until next week to decide whether to sign or veto the measure.


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