Discuss as:

'Intelligent design' in Tenn. schools?

AP Photo/Daniel Shanken

Tammy Kitzmiller, left, and Christy Rhem express their happiness during a news conference Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2005, in Harrisburg Pa., after hearing the verdicit from U.S. District Judge John E. Jones that prevents the Dover School District from teaching "intelligent design" in biology class. The debate lives on in Tennessee, where a bill passed the House of Representative on Thursday to protect teachers who challenge the theory of evolution.

Tennessee legislators took a step closer Thursday to allowing controversial subjects such as intelligent design to be taught in the science classroom.

The House or Representatives voted 70-28 to pass a bill that would protect teachers from discipline if they challenge the scientific theory of subjects such as "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning."

Defenders of science education ranging from the American Association for the Advancement of Science to the Tennessee Science Teachers Association have come out against the bill, characterizing it as "unnecessary, anti-scientific and very likely unconstitutional."

Support for the bill comes from backers of the intelligent design movement at the Discovery Institute in Seattle, Wash.

"There has been a widespread pattern of discrimination against educators who would challenge evolution in the classroom," Casey Luskin, a policy analyst with the institute, told Science Insider. "Schools censor from students the evidence against evolution. This [bill] protects the rights of teachers to teach in an objective way."

An identical bill is up for vote by the Senate Education Committee at the end of the month. If it follows the party line vote of the House, policy experts expect it to pass and to be signed into law.

Science Insider noted that if the bill passes, Tennessee would join Louisiana as the second state with specific protections for teaching "antievolution rhetoric."

More stories on intelligent design:

John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).