Louisiana Creationism Update (18 Jan ‘09)

IN THE BEGINNING, state senator Ben Nevers led the Louisiana legislature to enact an anti-science, anti-evolution, pro-creationism “Academic Freedom” bill modeled after the Academic Freedom Act promoted by the neo-theocrats at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (a/k/a the Discoveroids).

Then the bill was signed by governor Bobby Jindal, perhaps the world’s only creationist who was a biology major at Brown University. The Louisiana statute permits unspecified “supplemental materials” — wink, wink — to be used in science classes. [Suggestion -- try this: Big Daddy?]

It was left to the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to draft regulations regarding what those “supplemental materials” might be. Their staff wisely prepared guidelines with a specific ban on materials that promote creationism or intelligent design, or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind. But although sane and beneficial for the students, that language clearly contradicted the unspoken but universally understood purpose of the legislation.

BESE struck the language that would have kept creationism out of science class. Instead, they opted for a fig leaf saying that the materials “shall not promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.” But BESE’s fig leaf has a see-through window, and there are flashing red arrows pointing toward it, along with a bright neon sign saying: Lookie here!

By refusing to specifically ban creationism and ID, while keeping the ban on religious discrimination, BESE invites creationist groups to complain that science itself violates the guidelines by promoting a theory — evolution — that discriminates against their religious beliefs. In other words, BESE caved — big time.

Here are some excerpts from various Louisiana media that have reported on these events. In each case, the bold font was added by us:

Creationists show clout, from the Advocate:

There is no need for a state law to encourage critical thinking on specific subjects. But if one’s goal is to push the Bible story of creation into classrooms, some sort of legal cover is needed.

[...]

The original rules touched directly on creationism: “Materials that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind shall be prohibited for use in science classes.”

[...]

But with a certitude born of zealotry, the creationists wanted that sentence out of the rules, and BESE agreed.

[...]

BESE joins the ranks of the wimps who have rolled over on the issue of creationism. … [T]he state is siding with the backward against not only science but the rule of law in this country.

Classroom crusade, from the Times-Picayune:

The Rev. Gene Mills, who lobbies for God as director of the Louisiana Family Forum, had it right when he said that proposed science teaching rules were hostile to religion. That’s why the rules, drawn up by a state Education Department committee, were so wise and responsible. They were hostile to religion only because of its intrusion on scientific terrain.

Religion takes everything on faith, and science nothing. A mature civilization will encourage them to flourish in their separate spheres.

But we live in Louisiana, so the department’s admirable efforts to that end were doomed.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education eviscerated the rules, and now the creationists are at the gates once more.

[...]

The victory of the obscurantists, at least on paper, is not total, for the rules as adopted by BESE still say teachers “shall not promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion.”

But that leaves the determined proselytizer plenty of wiggle room. By removing an express prohibition on the teaching of creationism, BESE has clearly invited teachers to assume that it is officially approved.

Magazine questions La. science curriculum, from the Monroe News-Star:

The latest issue of the internationally recognized magazine Scientific American devotes eight pages to the discussions of science curricula — namely creationism or intelligent design vs. evolution — with Louisiana as the center point of the discussion.

[...]

The Scientific American article stated, “The Louisiana Science Education Act is pernicious: it tacitly encourages teachers and local school districts to miseducate students about evolution whether by teaching creationism as a scientifically credible alternative or by teaching evolution as scientifically controversial.”

BESE President Keith Guise could not be reached for comment.

So there you are. Official policy in Louisiana, at least until the courts address the issue, is that by using “supplemental materials” in science class, teachers can literally present Noah’s Ark as good science.

Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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