A Tesla coil is a transformer that generates very high voltage, low current electricity at radio frequencies. Science geeks make their own coils from kits you can buy on the internet. They are still popular with electrical engineers, and special effects people have used them for years (remember V-ger from the first Star Trek movie? Shooting out lightening bolts? Thank you, Mr. Tesla). In 2007, Mount Vernon, Ohio Eighth-grader Zach Dennis learned a new use for the Tesla coil, courtesy of his science teacher, John Freshwater. One December afternoon Zach came home from school with a cross branded into his arm. Horrified, his parents complained which spurred an investigation revealing Freshwater’s long history of decorating his classroom with Bible verses and the Ten Commandments, teaching creationism and occasionally branding crosses into his students with a Tesla coil.
In 1997 David Coppedge was hired by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at Cal Tech to be a systems administrator on its Saturn Cassini space mission. He’s an IT guy; a member of the small army serving the systems administration needs of the technology community based at Cal Tech. David Coppedge is also a creationist. He serves on the board of a film company specializing in Intelligent Design (ID) documentaries and maintains an ID website which actively advocates for ID as an alternative to evolution. He pressured fellow employees to buy his dvds, regularly extolled the merits of ID during work hours, and wanted the office holiday party renamed the Christmas party.
In Missouri, two bills are up for consideration by its House of Representatives. HB 1227, the Missouri Standard Science Act, would require that “Intelligent Design” be taught along with evolution. HB 1276 frames the issue in terms of “academic freedom” for teachers. Teachers “shall be permitted to help students critique…the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of the theory of biological…evolution.” The academic freedom approach is showing up more frequently in anti-evolution proposals, so it will be something to watch.
Kentucky HB 169, Oklahoma SB 1742 and New Hampshire HB 1457 follow the “academic freedom” thread, requiring local school boards to assist teachers in promoting “critical thinking [and] analysis of theories including, but not limited to evolution, the origin of life [and] global warming…” (Okla. SB 1742) and instructing students in how to identify the “advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories,” (Ky. HB 169), and challenge “accepted scientific theories,” (NH HB 1457).
On January 31, 2012 the Indiana State Senate passed SB 89 mandating science teachers to include in the science curriculum theories on origins of life “from multiple religions, which may include, but is not limited to, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Scientology.” During its hearings on SB 89, the Senate was warned of the possibility of expensive and protracted litigation should schools follow the new curriculum. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Dennis Kruse defended the bill in the Indianapolis Star: “I believe in Creationism and it’s worthy of being taught equally with evolutionary theory. Just because there are constitutional concerns doesn’t mean you don’t get something done you believe in.” The bill now goes before Indiana’s House of Representatives.
So where are we? John Freshwater was fired after an administrative hearing, he lost at trial and is appealing. David Coppedge was demoted after failing to heed his supervisor’s warnings and eventually laid off due to budget cuts to the Cassini program. He sued JPL for wrongful termination and religious discrimination. His trial starts March 12. And all of those legislators are out there trying to get creationism back into the classroom with bills that wouldn’t pass constitutional muster, but there going to spend the time, money and resources anyway. Where are we? It’s February 2, 2012, I’m still not sure what a Tesla coil is, and the wall of separation is, as ever, under assault.