Bill: Teacher Protection Academic Freedom Act (SB0893/HB0368)

Sponsors: Watson in the Senate; Dunn in the House

The Need for the Teacher Protection Academic Freedom Act

In many classrooms, Darwinian evolution is currently taught in a completely one-sided manner, with most students never learning anything about growing scientific controversies about the theory. This may be particularly true in Tennessee where the curriculum standard regarding evolution requires only that students know “the supporting evidence for the theory of evolution,” with no allowance for knowing anything about the controversies surrounding the theory.

Textbooks routinely contain significant amounts of outdated and erroneous material about evolution, including various discredited “proofs” for the theory that are no longer accepted by many biologists. As a result, there is growing support among educators, scientist, and the general public to teach evolution more accurately and fairly.

Educators, Scientist and Public Agree on the Need:

For example, over 850 doctoral scientists have signed a public statement declaring they are “skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life” and encouraging “careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory. The list of signatories includes member scientist form the National Academies of Science in Russia, Czech Republic, Hungary, India (Hindustan), Nigeria, Poland, Russia and the United States. Many of the signers are professors or researchers at major universities and international research institutions such as Princeton, MIT, Cambridge University, British Museum of Natural History, Moscow State University, The Smithsonian, The University of Georgia and the Ohio State University.

And among the public, a 2009 Zobgy poll revealed that 78% of likely American voters believe that “biology teachers should teach Darwin’s theory of evolution, but also the scientific evidence against it.”

In addition, various States and School Districts have successfully implemented policies that allow for the objective teaching of the strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory:

States (Alphabetically)

  • Alabama: “[E]volution by natural selection is a controversial theory. … Instructional material associated with controversy should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered.”
  • Louisiana: Louisiana schools shall “create and foster an environment…that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”
  • Minnesota: “The student will be able to explain how scientific and technological innovations as well as new evidence can challenge portions of or entire accepted theories and models including… [the] theory of evolution….”
  • Mississippi: “No local school board, school superintendent or school principal shall prohibit a public school classroom teacher from discussing and answering questions from individual students on the origin of life.
  • Missouri: “Identify and analyze current theories that are being questioned, and compare them to new theories that have emerged to challenge older ones (e.g., Theory of Evolution…).”
  • New Mexico: Students will “critically analyze the data and observations supporting the conclusion that the species living on Earth today are related by descent from the ancestral one-celled organisms.”
  • Pennsylvania: “Critically evaluate the status of existing theories (e.g., germ theory of disease, wave theory of light, classification of subatomic particles, theory of evolution, epidemiology of aids).”
  • South Carolina: “Summarize ways that scientists use data from a variety of sources to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory.”
  • Texas: Students must “analyze, evaluate and critique scientific explanations … including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations so as to encourage critical thinking,” and also “analyze and evaluate” core evolutionary claims, including “common ancestry,” “natural selection,” “mutation,” “sudden appearance,” the origin of the “complexity of the cell,” and the formation of “long complex molecules having information such as the DNA molecule for self-replicating life.”

School Districts

  • Lancaster, California: “Students should learn that science never commits itself irrevocably to any fact, hypothesis, or theory, no matter how firmly it appears established. Evolution, then, should be taught as theory, as opposed to unalterable fact. Discussions that question the theory may be appropriate as long as they do not stray from current criteria of scientific fact, hypothesis, and theory.
  • Ouachita Parish, Louisiana: “[T]he teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy … [T]eachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.”
  • Grantsburg, Wisconsin: “Students shall be able to explain the scientific strengths and weaknesses of evolutionary theory. This policy does not call for the teaching of Creationism or Intelligent Design.”


In the No Child Left Behind legislation, Congress passed the following language as a part of the legislation’s conference report:

The Conferees recognize that a quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.

In Tennessee, students are expected to: “Summarize the supporting evidence for the theory of evolution,” with no alternative language given for summarizing the detracting evidence. (CLE 3210.5.4)

What this Bill Does

The bill requires schools to create an environment that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues. Specifically schools are instructed to work with teachers to find more effective ways to present the science curriculum where it addresses scientific controversies and makes it clear that teachers shall not only be permitted to help but shall not be prohibited from helping students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.

At this link you can find more specific questions and answers regarding this bill.

What This Bill Does Not Do

This bill does not require the teaching of any alternative theory to Darwinian evolution. In fact, the bill specifically states: “This Act only protects the teaching of scientific information, and this Act 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.”

The ‘Constitutional Question’

Proponents of evolutionary theory sometimes allege that it is unconstitutional to teach about any debates or controversies regarding evolutionary theory on the grounds that such instruction is “religious” or “creationism.” But this it not true. In Edwards v. Aguillard, (1987) the United States Supreme Court was emphatic that states can require the teaching of “scientific critiques of prevailing scientific theories.” That is exactly what the Teacher Protection Academic Freedom Act does and no more.