published Sunday, April 15th, 2012

Group rallies against new Tennessee law

  • photo
    Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam speaks during a meeting of the Chattanooga Times Free Press editorial board.
    Staff Photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press

Should teachers be able to discuss weaknesses in evolution?

NASHVILLE -- A group of scientists, teachers, parents and students rallied at the state Capitol on Saturday against a new Tennessee law that allows public school teachers to discuss the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolution and other scientific theories.

"The sponsors of this bill said it's about making sure students know about controversial issues around topics like climate change and evolution," said Dr. Larisa DeSantis, an assistant professor in the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department at Vanderbilt University.

DeSantis, who spearheaded a 3,200-signature petition drive to persuade Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to veto the legislation, said scientists and peer-reviewed articles in science journals "don't treat global warming or evolution as scientific controversies. Instead we focus on understanding the details."

About 40 people attended the event. DeSantis said they will remain in touch and consider further action.

Haslam declined to veto the bill but also refused to sign it. The legislation, sponsored by Senate Speaker pro tem Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, became law last week.

Watson last week took issue with critics' attacks.

"I just disagree with their whole argument," Watson said. "I think those are all red herrings."

At Saturday's rally, Williamson County high school science teacher Jen James questioned the need for the law.

James said she has "always felt free to discuss any issue my students bring up, and I do so regularly. As a person with my own deeply held religious convictions, I am always sensitive to the questions my students have regarding their own religious beliefs."

"Part of my job is to distinguish between matters of science and matters of belief," she said. "We study science in the science classroom."

Fourteen-year-old Hadley McCammon, a ninth-grader at Nashville's Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet High School, also questioned the need for the law. She said she's happy with what she's learning from her science teacher.

Understanding evolution "is very important because it shapes almost everything that we have today," she said, adding her teacher "also teaches the scientific method" and critical thinking skills.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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