Commentary: Evolutionary monkey laws

The Miami HeraldMay 6, 2012 

Evolution has been voted down in the Tennessee legislature. School kids there need not be bothered by confusing allusions to homo erectus, homo ergaster, homo antecessor, homo heidelbergensis, homo neanderthalensis and other ancestral contradictions to that Old Time Religion.

The Monkey Bill, as it’s known thereabouts, became state law earlier this month without the signature of Gov. Bill Haslam, who disapproved but apparently not enough to exercise his veto pen. Haslam did say he was worried about Tennessee’s reputation. Sure enough, the national media has had a good time remembering Tennesseans acting like anti-science yokels back during the 1925 Scopes trial.

Once, the Monkey Bill would have been regarded as only a local curiosity. But lunatic legislation no longer occurs in a vacuum. Gun laws like Stand Your Ground, the new spate of voter-ID laws, laws that restrict immigration and abortion or those that attempt to resurrect school prayer are derived, often word for word, from model legislation issued by ideological think tanks.

Model bills bounce around from one whacked-out legislature to another. If evolution went down in Tennessee in 2012, you can pretty well figure that the Florida Legislature will be rethinking the origins of the species in 2013.

Tennessee’s Monkey Bill was based on the “Model Academic Freedom Statute on Evolution,” contrived by the Discovery Institute (which promotes teaching intelligent design over evolution) to nudge up to the very limits of the U.S. Constitution. Ostensibly, it protects the rights of teachers to present alternatives to evolution, global warming, human cloning and “the chemical origins of life.”

All eight of Tennessee’s members in the National Academy of Sciences asked the legislature not to pass the bill, signing a statement that, just a few years ago, would have been belaboring the obvious. “The evidence for evolution is overwhelming. There is no scientific evidence for its supposed rivals (‘creation science’ and ‘intelligent design’) and there is no scientific evidence against it.”

No matter. Scientifics truths, lately, can be reversed by a simple act of the legislature. I speak for aging hoopsters everywhere who think it’s high time our lawmakers went after that damn law of gravity.

Last year, Sen. Stephen Wise of Jacksonville attempted to push an anti-evolution bill through the Florida Legislature, saying, “Why do we still have apes if we came from them?” You can figure creationists will be reprising those Wise words next year. The religious crowd was able to pass the model school prayer bill this session, with language that alludes to student-led “inspirational messages.” The new law, though, makes school prayer a local option, leaving it up to individual school boards whether they want to pay a lawyer to fend off an inevitable constitutional challenge.

The Legislature also added Amendment Eight, dubbed as the “Religious Freedom Amendment,” to the fall ballot, which, with obtuse language, removes the old state constitutional prohibition on giving tax dollars going to “any church, sect, or religious denomination.”

That’s really about state money (think vouchers) going to religious schools, where teachers are already free to ignore Charlie Darwin and all that inconvenient monkey business.

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