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 – which stated “This Act does not require or permit instruction in any religious doctrine or materials” – 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 – 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.


  1. #1 B. Tetreault
    April 26, 2012

    It would be so wonderful if someone, somehow could come up with a way to bring a civil suit against the DI. There must be some basis for a suit. Perhaps a clever legal team could sue for damages caused by incitement to waste taxpayer money on frivolous and unconstitutional legislation? I, for one, would gladly donate to support the legal costs of such an endeavor.

  2. #2 TH
    April 26, 2012

    The disclaimer has been stated more eloquently many times before:

    “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

    “E’s pining for the fjords.”

    “Hump? What hump?”

    “We have always been at war with East Asia.”

  3. #3 David
    April 26, 2012



    The following suggested Origins of Life policy is a realistic, practical and legal way for local and state school boards to achieve a win-win with regard to evolution teaching. Even the ACLU, the NCSE, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State should find the policy acceptable:

    “As no theory in science is immune from critical examination and evaluation, and recognizing that evolutionary theory is the only approved theory of origins that can be taught in the [school district/state] science curriculum: whenever evolutionary theory is taught, students and teachers are encouraged to discuss the scientific information that supports and questions evolution and its underlying assumptions, in order to promote the development of critical thinking skills. This discussion would include only the scientific evidence/information for and against evolutionary theory, as it seeks to explain the origin of the universe and the diversity of life on our planet.”

  4. #4 David
    April 27, 2012
  5. #5 Vicki
    April 27, 2012

    Brandt–It’s not just the South. I was talking to someone two weeks ago who won’t tell her six-year-old about dinosaurs because she’s not prepared to tell him that humans and dinosaurs didn’t live at the same time. Because apparently her rabbi doesn’t like that idea. This was in New York City.

  6. #6 Clif
    April 28, 2012

    I fail to understand how the teaching of creationism should be considered unconstitutional. If the teaching is presented alongside the teaching of evolution what is the real problem? Should teachers be afraid that a student would go home and ask questions of his parents regarding origin theories? Why is it so wrong to expect students to think through their origins and to consider all viewpoints? Besides, evolutionary theory should never be presented as the “be-all end-all” of origin theory. To do so skips over huge gaps in the fossil record, the Pre-Cambrian explosion, and the missing link, not to mention the problem of the existence of altruism and moral law. Evolution cannot explain everything. This does not mean that science curricula in schools should throw it out, but I feel that it is vitally important that students be presented with all the evidence and be challenged to work through the issues with their parents and not with a government-paid employee.

  7. #7 Will Fraser
    May 7, 2012

    Hi Clif. We’re talking about science Clif not philosophy.
    The standard creationist attacks on evolution you cite can’t negate the fact that it is the central tenet of the life sciences, is backed by millions of interlinked scientific observations and that creationism offers ZERO credible scientific alternatives. Thats ZERO Clif. 0 ! The “Cambrian explosion” lasted 40 million years Clif.
    And it is well cited, described and researched by? Scientists, not creationists. Thats because creationists don’t do research Clif. If they did it would be published in science journals and in science textbooks wouldn’t it?
    Please, take a few courses and stop reading David Klinghoffer articles. The man’s a non scientific shill.
    Or to put it another way, your failure to understand that non scientific religious fundamentalism posing as science is unconstitutional is not really the issue is it?

  8. #8 MacTurk
    August 17, 2012

    Clif is being both disengenuous, and ignorant of US constitutional law.

    In his post., he states that he fails to “..understand how the teaching of creationism should be considered unconstitutional”. The Supreme Court of the USA(SCOTUS), thankfully, has displayed more intellectual rigour than he is willing to employ. It has consistently ruled that the teaching of creationism is a breach of the wall separating church and state. There is a second minor point here, which is that creationism is not science, but religion, and so has NO place in any science class.

    The rest of his post is a standard grab bag of creationist whines, which first make the point that he does not know what he is talking about.

    The Neo-Darwinian synthesis is, and should be, “..presented as the “be-all end-all” of origin theory”, simply because it has all the evidence to back it. Or would Clif accept giving equal value, and teaching time, to Hindu, Native American, Zoroastrian, Old Norse, Celtic, Roman and Ancient Greek origin myths, all of which have exactly the same objective evidence to back them as his pathetic ‘creationism’; as in NONE.

    No-one has ever claimed that evolution explains everything; this is a straw man argument. However, the Theory of Evolution DOES explain, very elegantly, and with vast quantities of evidence to back it up, the diversity of species which have existed, and currently exist on our planet. That is why it is the underlying fundamental foundation of the Biological sciences.

    Your last sentence, simplified, translates as “I object to my offspring being exposed to facts which would challenge my indoctrination program”. This cannot be classified as “..vitally important…” in any part of the reality-based universe, but it is, apparently, very important for your ego.

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