Still more religious insanity in Tennessee

I’m giving a talk in Tennessee on Monday, and will be entering a state rife with religious lunacy. Alert reader Eliot called my attention to a new bill in that state called the “Religious Viewspoints Antidiscrimination Act” (download pdf at link). Proposed by state representative Andy Holt (a Republican, of course), the bill (SB 3632/HB 3616) prohibits restrictions on students giving “reasoned” religious answers to questions on tests or essays, or from bringing their faith into the classroom. It’s all meant to make public schools more religious.

As the Tennessean reports:

Under the bill, school districts also would require teachers to treat a student’s faith-based answers to school assignments the same as secular answers. But while the bill allows faith-based answers, those responses must be justified like any other student’s.

“This is not a bill that is intended to give special advantages to those who hold a particular faith. This is to protect those who have a particular faith,” Holt said.

Holt couldn’t cite cases in Tennessee involving that particular type of discrimination against students.

This is complete insanity.  Imagine a biology class in which a student writes a paper on biogeography as a result of the Great Flood, explaining how Noah’s Ark could hold all the animals. After all, one can “justify” that, as well as many other ludicrous creationist scenarios.  “Justification” does not mean “convincing rational evidence,” but merely “a plausible rationale,” and who is to say what is “plausible” here?  This would make a dog’s breakfast of biology, and of course has implications for other fields as well, including cosmology, physics, and the humanities.

The paper reports further:

Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, said he feels the legislation would alleviate school districts’ fear of allowing such expressions. His bill is slated for hearings in House and Senate subcommittees next week.

“We live in a society that’s hypersensitive to statements of faith, and so I think in many ways, students have been disincentivized to make statements of faith,” he said.

As if students can’t make statements of faith in school (they can pray on their own), in church, or anywhere else! They just can’t expect to get credit for unjustified, faith-based answers in their assignments.

The blatant purpose of this bill—to sneak religion into state schools, where its public expression is illegal—is evident from another of the bill’s provisions:

Requires LEAs [local education agencies] to adopt a policy that includes the establishment of a limited public forum for student speakers at all school events where a student will speak publicly.

As the paper reports,

The legislation would require school districts to implement a policy to create a “limited public forum” before campus events such as the beginning of a school day or before a football game. Select students would be eligible to speak freely at these forums, including about religion, and the school district would issue a disclaimer before those speeches.

“I think the free expression of religion extends to those who may be in the public institution of education,” Holt said. “I do believe in the freedom of religion, but I do not believe in the freedom from religion.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has of course objected to this bill on several grounds: students already have the right to express their religion privately, to pray, and to discuss their faith with peers in a non-classroom setting; students would experience coercion during public prayer if they don’t share that religion or any religion (do atheists get a right to make a statement before a football game?); the legislation would be divisive and lead to costly litigation (such litigation is a certainty if the bill passes); and the bill burdens schools with onerous duties of setting up religious forums in which a diversity of viewpoints could be publicly expressed. If you endorse one religion, then you must endorse them all—and atheism as well.

If you’re from Tennessee, the ACLU website above has a link to send a letter to your state representative, though I can’t see the link from Chicago (I think it works only if you have a Tennessee zip code).

Here’s a summary of the bill:

SUMMARY OF BILL: Requires local education agencies (LEAs) to treat a student’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint in the same manner that the LEA treats a student’s voluntary expression of a secular viewpoint on an otherwise permissible subject. Prohibits LEAs from discriminating against a student on the basis of the expression of a religious viewpoint.

Requires LEAs to adopt a policy that includes the establishment of a limited public forum for student speakers at all school events where a student will speak publicly. This disclaimer shall be provided at all events where the LEA feels there is a need to dispel confusion over the LEA’s sponsorship of a student’s speech. Prohibits student expression on an otherwise permissible subject from being excluded from the limited public forum because the expression is based on a religious viewpoint.

Authorizes students to express their beliefs about religion in assignments and requires such expression to be free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submission. Requires homework and classroom assignments to be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance and against other legitimate pedagogical concerns identified by the LEA.

Prohibits students from being rewarded or penalized on the basis of the religious content of their work.

Authorizes students to organize prayer groups, religious clubs, or other such gatherings before, during, and after school to the same extent that students are permitted to organize other noncurricular student activities and groups. Requires religious student groups to be given equal access to the school facilities for assembling as those given to other non-curricular groups.

Requires religious student groups that meet for prayer or other religious speech to be allowed to advertise or announce their meetings in the same manner that the LEA authorizes other nonreligious student groups. Authorizes LEAs to disclaim school sponsorship of non-curricular groups and events in a manner that does not favor or disfavors groups that meet to engage in prayer or other religious speech.

71 Comments

  1. Steve
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Students ought to respond by inventing their own theologies along the lines of “God Always Know Correct” in which they always pray to their God for an answer on any exam, and whatever answer God sends to them is necessarily the correct answer and to say otherwise puts any and all teachers in violation with this law.

    • bernardhurley
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      Alternatively they could make themselves Popes and be infallible.

  2. JJG
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    I see the potential for a marked uptick in student’s grades in TN. Seriously, there can never again be a wrong answer. Am I not right?

    • daveau
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      Just as long as one can come up with a line of BS to justify it. Preparation for the real world.

      • PB
        Posted March 23, 2012 at 11:56 pm | Permalink

        For certain careers, these are real actual preparation for real world ..

        • Posted March 24, 2012 at 3:21 am | Permalink

          Not only careers. Bullshit is an actually potent skill.

          • Diane G.
            Posted March 25, 2012 at 12:36 am | Permalink

            Indeed. But only because so damned many folks fall for it. See any TV evangelist…

            Detecting BS should be an ongoing course in all school curricula.

    • Greg
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      Tennessee is fostering a generation of sophisticated theologians.

    • eric
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      An uptick in their HS grades; a downtick in their freshman university grades. Or possibly an equivalent uptick in college rejection letters.

      Yes the law should never pass, but I hope that teachers also communicate directly to their students and parents about this – even when you can get an A in a science class by not learning the science, doing that isn’t in your long term interests.

  3. Veroxitatis
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Lots of scope here for disruptive activity. Essays and artwork extolling the virtues of Islamic fundamentalism, the righteousness of Al Queda’s cause, the benefits of Sharia Law and the heavenly anticipation of 70 virgins for those who choose martyrdom. Yeah!

  4. FastLane
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Instead of studying for the actual exam, I suspect a lot of students (but not enough to make a difference) might study some obscure religion and answer based on that. I can see some answers based on native american religions being fairly entertaining, and they are still pervasive enough that most teachers would have the sense to not make an issue of it.

    If some students could get together and organize this sort of thing as a protest to this, it might gain traction in getting a lawsuit, or getting it struck down (assuming it passes).

    • eric
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      Using these bills to promote some nonchristian religion is a pretty effective way to get them struck, as the people who promote them are never sincere about wanting to broaden education or whatnot. For these folks, the only thing worse than a secular education is an education where other religions get the power to preach at their kids.

      Let’s hope, however, that any student who does this doesn’t face major fallout, since that is another common response to such tactics.

      • MadScientist
        Posted March 23, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

        That’s funny – whenever religious folks in Australia start to talk about what they can do to get more public funding for their schools etc, I tell ‘em I’ll go give the Muslim principals some training so that they can compete better for the available funding. I think they’d rather cut a leg off than give (more) public money to the Muslim schools.

  5. bacopa
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Well, you could always force the kids to learn the material and give the right answers by adding context to test questions. Something like “According to our textbook, how did the Cumberland Gap form? Discuss at least two of the features of the Gap we talked about in class that show why geologists think it formed that way.”

    That way they couldn’t just say “The Flood” and have it be counted as a correct answer.

    • NoAstronomer
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      Got did it.

    • NoAstronomer
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      *Grrrr*

      God did it.

  6. KP
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    In Nashville just up the road from Vandy, you’ll find the Southern Baptist Convention. Enjoy! LOL

    • Posted March 24, 2012 at 6:48 am | Permalink

      Let’s not forget the onslaught of Lifeway Christian bookstores.

  7. imil42
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    I don’t believe that this bill permits any student to tell that the Earth is flat or to deny the biological evolution.

    Imagine that the student does write such nonsense. The professor cannot “penalize him on the basis of the religious content of his work”. But he is absolutely free to penalize him on the basis of the SCIENTIFIC content of his work! Which in the case would be very poor.

    At most, this bill would allow the student to praise God in his essay on Big Bang. Though I may be wrong, I am not a lawyer.

    • eric
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      imil and bacopa –

      I think the intent of the bill is precisely to let students get credit for creationist answers to biology test questions.

      And I think school teachers and administrators know that. However its worded, its likely that many teachers will interpret it that way because they will fear to lose their jobs if they dare give a bad grade for a creationist answer.

      • imil42
        Posted March 23, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

        Yes, it’s quite likely.

        I’m just saying that there is a way, even if the bill is passed, NOT to let the whole education process slip into madness.

        Not that there’s any reason to pass such law.

        • heindsight
          Posted March 23, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

          “Not that there’s any reason to pass such law.”

          You think the lack of reason would stop them?

  8. Posted March 23, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    “Religious insanity” to me sounds like a redundancy.

    • MadScientist
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      Or a tautology even.

      • Posted March 24, 2012 at 3:26 am | Permalink

        No, there are nonreligious insanities.

        Whether there are noninsane religions depends on whether you define “insane” as “wacky, absurd” or actually harmful. Pastafarianism is insane in the former sense but not obviously the latter.

  9. Darth Dog
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    I wonder if Rep Holt would be happy going to see a witch doctor who got through medical school with faith-based answers on all their exams.

    • Posted March 23, 2012 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      RFLAO! Good one, Darth Dog!

    • Sastra
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      He might, under the mantle of so-called “Health Freedom.” A fair amount of religious conservatives are in favor of alternative medicine. “Different ways of knowing;” let The People use personal experience to decide for themselves; and keep government regulations out of all enterprises, including health.

      Once you’ve concluded that scientists are in a corrupt conspiracy and science itself should be more restricted in what fact claims it can reliably study and/or pronounce on, then crank magnetism often takes over. Don’t be surprised if someone is both a creationist AND a homeopath. “Witch doctor” is a broad category.

    • raven
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      They already have their own witch doctors.

      They are called faith healers. The really high powered ones are called “ministers” or New Apostles.

      It doesn’t take a whole lot of education though. A course from a vacation bible school and reading on a third grade level should work. An ability to ignore all the suffering and dead people you produce is highly recommended.

    • DV
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      You can bet he won’t be bringing his kids to faith-based doctors. These guys are just hypocrites! Which is a good thing for their kids’ sake.

      • Posted March 25, 2012 at 7:10 am | Permalink

        Don’t be so sure. Things like chiropractic are pretty close to being religions, and certainly at the very least contain many common elements with same that make both antiscientific (e.g. psychoneural dualism).

  10. raven
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    A vaguely similar case in California was ruled unconstitutional.

    Religious viewpoint discrimination is fundiespeak for my mythology is just as good as your science.

    Private xian schools sued the UC system to have their creationist biology classes accepted the the Cal system.

    A judge ruled that they couldn’t claim religious viewpoint discrimination and the UC system can refuse to accept creationist biology in considering entrance status.

  11. raven
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    Sort of a silly and unnecessary law.

    Schools can’t make students believe anything. Nor should they be able to.

    Students aren’t required to “believe” in evolution or Heliocentrism.

    They are required to know what the scientific findings are. Believing in them is optional.

  12. raven
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Fundie xians score lower than the general population in IQ, education, socioeconomic status and higher in any social problem you care to name, abortion, divorce, child sexual abuse etc..

    They seem very determined to stay that way.

    Oh well. We do need people to mow our lawns and do our laundry.

    • Greg Esres
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

      “We do need people to mow our lawns and do our laundry.”

      Unfortunately, they run for president.

    • ollipehkonen
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

      The very unfortunate thing is that the best predictor of a person’s education level is his/her parents’ education levels.

  13. TheSkepticalChymist
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    “I do believe in the freedom of religion, but I do not believe in the freedom from religion.”

    Statements like this chill me to the bone. Religious conservatives in our country seem to think that “freedom of religion” means “freedom to be Christian and to push their Christian ‘morality’ on others”.

    • Rod
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

      This part concerns me as well. Do they not realise that you cannot have one without the other?

  14. dunstar
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    lol. yeah america is screwed. i’m from canada so please just keep this krazy stuff from spilling north of the border. thanks.

    • Posted March 24, 2012 at 6:52 am | Permalink

      lolz

    • Posted March 25, 2012 at 7:12 am | Permalink

      It already has to some degree. We have a federal science minister who would be sympathetic to this sort of crapola if (per impossibile) it was at all possible to “get out”. Fortunately education is a federal matter. But – one last thing – witness the curfuffle about Quebec secularizing their schools!

  15. Sastra
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    SUMMARY OF BILL: Requires local education agencies (LEAs) to treat a student’s voluntary expression of a religious viewpoint in the same manner that the LEA treats a student’s voluntary expression of a secular viewpoint on an otherwise permissible subject. Prohibits LEAs from discriminating against a student on the basis of the expression of a religious viewpoint.

    Ho, ho, ho — WE could have written that!

    No more free ride for unsupported, unsupportable claims just because they’re “religious.” If you want to talk about God or spirit or revelation you better damn well have those hypotheses formulated, tested, and established by the objective methods of science or out they go and no backtalk! From now on, the rules of inquiry for empirical claims will be applied evenly and consistently, with no special privileges given to the so-called ‘supernatural’ realm and no special treatment given to ‘faith.’

    The net is up. Your religious viewpoint better raise itself to the standard. Let the games begin!

    Sheesh. They should be careful what they wish for.

  16. Bonzodog
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Wonder if I could get away with quoting “Life of Brian” in an exam?

  17. davidintoronto
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    I’m always surprised that parents are eager for biology teachers to instruct their children on religion. Do these teachers have approved credentials in this area? Unless… there’s nothing about religion that requires any particular expertise… ;)

  18. James
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    I just added one more question to the math quiz I’m writing.

    How many people can you feed with 3 loaves of bread and 2 fish?

    I’m looking forward the reasoned answers.

    • xuuths
      Posted March 23, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Don’t you mean five loaves and two fishes (Matthew 14:19) . . .

      or seven loaves and a few little fishes (Matthew 15:34) . . .

      or seven loaves and no fishes (Mark 8:6) . . .

      I don’t think they could be contradictory — if the story actually happened, and the recording of it was divinely inspired . . .

      • Posted March 24, 2012 at 3:30 am | Permalink

        Obviously it Jesus a little trial and error to set the process in motion.

        • Posted March 24, 2012 at 3:32 am | Permalink

          I don’t even know how I managed this error. I guess it registered even though it claimed to refuse.

      • Posted March 24, 2012 at 3:30 am | Permalink

        Obviously it took Jesus a little trial and error to set the process in motion.

  19. saguhh00
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Tennessee = Theoccrassy

  20. Daniel Dvorkin
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Lots of comments along the lines of “Great, now schoolkids in TN can give answers based on Islam / Buddhism / Hinduism / FSMism and get full credit and there’s nothing they can do about it! Be careful what you ask for, fundies! Hah hah hah!”

    It does not work that way. Here’s how it will work. Religious answers which will be acceptable, and more generally, religious challenges to school authority which will be acceptable, will be those based in Christianity, specifically fundamentalist Protestantism. And students who profess other beliefs will be _even more_ ostracized than they already are. This is what the sponsors of the bill wish to achieve, and if the bill becomes law and survives the inevitable court challenges, it is what they will achieve. To think anything else is naivete of the highest and most dangerous order.

  21. NoAstronomer
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    And the last two paragraphs of that summary are unnecessary since religious clubs & organisations are already constitionally afforded those rights anyway.

    In fact they read like standard legal jargon; in this case intended to reinforce the belief that bible-based religion is under attack by the forces of evil (currently incarnated in the form of ‘President’ Obama).

  22. komponist1
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    I grew up in Tennessee, and I have to say that I’m not at all surprised. The state is living up to the reputation that it established in 1925. Look for the rest of the South to jump on the bandwagon.

    Incidentally, it was of great interest to me to be able to meet John Scopes in the late 1960s while I was working for the public broadcasting outlet in Philadelphia — he was a very quiet, unassuming man. Just a parenthetical remark.

  23. MadScientist
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    It sure as hell wouldn’t stop me from giving them a failing mark. As far as I’m concerned, students can give any goddamned answer they want, but if it’s not correct they don’t get any credit for it because they obviously didn’t understand the topic.

  24. heindsight
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    Requires homework and classroom assignments to be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance …

    Based on this, good teachers should still be able to fail students who give creationist answers in biology (for example), as such answers do not meet “ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance.” The problem is that many (most?) teachers will not do this, either because they are religious themselves or because they fear religious persecution.

  25. Claimthehighground
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Aren’t there already schools like this? They’re called madrassas, I think.

    • PB
      Posted March 24, 2012 at 12:03 am | Permalink

      True. In madrassas the holy-book in the actual centre of knowledge, you learn to read using it, and you are trained to read, memorize and sing the whole book.

      (coincidentally, those are almost the whole extent of the “education”)

      • bernardhurley
        Posted March 24, 2012 at 12:57 am | Permalink

        Not only that but you learn it in an ancient dialect of Arabic whether or not you know any Arabic at all.

        • Veroxitatis
          Posted March 24, 2012 at 2:02 am | Permalink

          Yes, like the Torah whether you know any Hebrew. And then there are Catholics who use the Tridentine Mass. Does God speak in Latin?

          • Claimthehighground
            Posted March 24, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

            g-d failed Latin; that’s why the gospels were all written in Greek. Or as Dan Quayle would have said, “he only speaks Latin in Latin America.”

  26. James
    Posted March 23, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    Why don’t we just get where we’re inevitably going and allow them into college on faith alone?

  27. Posted March 23, 2012 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    Maybe the Tennessee ACLU Chapter needs a Super-PAC.

  28. Posted March 23, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s time to get religion out of government. Watch out folks, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is coming true.

  29. Posted March 24, 2012 at 3:19 am | Permalink

    “Under the bill, school districts also would require teachers to treat a student’s faith-based answers to school assignments the same as secular answers. But while the bill allows faith-based answers, those responses must be justified like any other student’s.”

    This is already the case. If it must be treated like a secular answer, and must be justified like a secular answer, this is already the case, and should be. It’s a correct answer or it isn’t a correct answer. It fails or it does not.

    This is meaningless in that it means nothing. It is identical in effect to other meaningless additions, such as a requirement for licensed driving.
    Both have the same effect if introduced, namely no effect at all, becuase it’s already in place.

  30. Posted March 24, 2012 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    Wait a minute, let’s think this through, if they have accept any viewpoint, assuming atheist as well, then I could technically write a very interesting religion exam if I lived there.

  31. Aidan Karley
    Posted March 24, 2012 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    The blatant purpose of this bill—to sneak religion into state schools, where its public expression is illegal—is evident from another of the bill’s provisions:

    So … isn’t that very much the grounds on which the, errr, “Dover”(?) case was struck down? So if this law is enacted, then it’ll pretty quickly get struck down too?
    (I may have the wrong case – I’m not in the habit of memorising foreign case law. Errr, this one? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitzmiller_v._Dover_Area_School_District )

  32. Posted March 25, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

    This is horrible.
    They are opening a terrible can of worms with this, besides the damage to the science program.
    I can just see how this will play out in history and other classes: biblical justifications for returning to slavery, for the ostracizing of the Jewish “Christ-killers” etc. etc.


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