Central Confusion: La. School Board ‘Supplements’ Science Education – With Religion

People have the right to believe what they want about human origins, but they have no right to use the public school system to propagate religion.

Insanity, it has been said, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

In light of that, the state of Louisiana might want to get a mental health check-up. Legislators and some education officials there keep promoting creationism in public school science classes – and they keep getting busted on it.

Here’s the latest round: In 2008, Louisiana lawmakers passed a law that allows the use of “supplemental” materials in science class so long as the materials “promote critical thinking skills, logical analysis and open and objective discussions of scientific theories being studied.” The law lists three scientific theories that would fall under this: the origins of life, global warming and human cloning. 

By “origins of life,” the legislature clearly meant evolution. Cut through the rhetorical fog about “critical thinking” and “logical analysis,” and what legislators really want is to teach religion in biology class.

Pelican State lawmakers have been gunning for Darwin’s theory for decades. Remember, this is the state that passed a “balanced treatment” law mandating equal time between “creation science” and evolution, only to see it struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987.

It has been one thing after another since then. Legislators in Louisiana (and other states) have promoted “evidence against evolution,” the “theory of abrupt appearance” and “intelligent design.” Most of this stuff turned out to be non-starters, but the supplemental materials law, backed by Louisiana’s Religious Right-loving governor, Bobby Jindal, passed.

Real scientists don’t think much of it. Seventy-eight Nobel laureate scientists have signed a petition asking that the law be repealed. Zack Kopplin, a former public school student from Baton Rouge now attending Rice University in Texas, has been leading the repeal effort, so far without success.

It has been difficult to tell how many public school districts in Louisiana, if any, have started using supplemental materials. But there’s no longer any doubt about that in the town of Central, La. Yesterday the Central Community School Board voted to take the plunge and approve the use of materials designed to provide “alternatives” to evolution.

The Baton Rouge Advocate reported that board member Jim Lloyd made the motion to approve the policy.

“We believe,” Lloyd said, “this resolution will give teachers the academic freedom they deserve to teach the controversy where appropriate.”

The policy passed 6-0. Barbara Forrest, a member of Americans United’s Board of Trustees and a prominent critic of creationism, was not impressed.

“It’s absolutely creationist code language that we’ve seen come up again and again in other states,” Forrest told the Advocate.

Forrest, a professor at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, added, “The only reason to do this is to give the teachers in Central some cover for teaching creationism.”

We’ve said this before, but will repeat it again: In the scientific community, there is no “controversy” over evolution. It is considered the foundation of biology. If there were anything to creationist “alternatives” they would be taught in public universities. They are not.

Students who walk into a university level Introduction to Biology class with their heads full of evolution “alternatives” are immediately put at a disadvantage. No thinking parents want that for their children.

Yet that’s what they will be getting in Central, a small city of about 28,000 in East Baton Rouge Parish (parish is the Louisiana term for county). And it comes at the behest not of the scientific community but from a band of fundamentalist Christians who are unable to reconcile their beliefs with the modern world.

Those people have the right to believe what they want about human origins. The Constitution, however, gives them no right to use the public school system to propagate religion.

Here’s hoping some sanity soon returns to Louisiana’s public schools. If necessary, the courts ought to impose it.