You have to give the creationists credit: When the courts knock down one of their schemes for sneaking the Book of Genesis into the public schools, they come right back with another one. You might say their strategies evolve.
Here's a case in point: Louisiana has seen numerous attempts to bring creationism into public schools. It was a Louisiana law that mandated "balanced treatment" between evolution and creationism that the Supreme Court struck down in 1987's Edwards v. Aguillard.
Since then, various Louisiana school districts and parishes have tried other ways to undermine the teaching of evolution. Tangipahoa Parish tried "disclaimer" stickers in biology books. (That failed in court, too.)
Now a Louisiana lawmaker has come up with yet another idea: a so-called "academic freedom" bill that would encourage teachers to examine all sides of issues deemed "controversial" – such as evolution, cloning and global warming.
Versions of this bill have popped up elsewhere, including Florida, where some legislators are fighting new state science standards that emphasize evolution.
In Louisiana, Sen. Ben Nevers, a Bogalusa Democrat, insists his bill isn't designed to pave the way for creationism. At first reading, it sounds reasonable. After all, who could be against examining all sides of an issue?
But that perspective is only valuable when there is a legitimate controversy. The vast majority of scientists no longer dispute the reality of evolution. Sure, there is vigorous discussion about some of the details – and a good teacher will discuss that in the classroom.
Implying that evolution is in dispute in scientific circles, however, only does a disservice to students. When they go on to college, they will taught evolution upfront and without apology in freshman biology class. We'd better give them an adequate grounding in secondary school, or they'll be at sea.
Nevers admits he introduced the bill at the behest of the Louisiana Family Forum, a Religious Right organization that has long sought to undermine good science education in the Pelican State. The Louisiana Family Forum is not a scientific organization. Its goal is to promote its understanding of the Bible (a rather narrow one, in my view) in government and in public schools. The Bible is an important book for many people who look to it for spiritual guidance. It does not claim to be a science text.
Nevers and legislators in other states don't really care about "academic freedom." They're just trying to dress up another tired attempt to push creationism in language that sounds noble and decent.
Their overtures should be rejected yet again.