Change comes slowly to some parts of the country. Louisiana is a stark reminder of that.
It’s 2013, and state legislators continue to resist efforts to teach evolution in public schools. There was another showdown on the matter yesterday, with members of the Senate Education Committee voting 3-2 to table a bill that would have repealed creationist legislation in the state.
In 2008, Louisiana legislators passed a so-called “Science Education Act” that allows teachers to use “supplemental” materials in public schools when discussing evolution. Its aim, Americans United and other critics say, is clearly to sneak creationist propaganda into the classrooms.
At the time, AU did our best to warn lawmakers that they were making a big mistake. Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and an expert on “intelligent design” creationism (as well as a member of AU’s Board of Trustees), was quick to point out that this bill was bad news.
They would not listen.
Zack Kopplin, a former Louisiana high school student who now attends Rice University in Houston, has been working to overturn the law. Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans) introduced legislation to repeal the measure. Kopplin was on hand for the hearing and testified against the act.
Also testifying was Tammy Wood, a teacher who received the 1991 Louisiana Presidential Award for science education. Wood explained that the bill’s vague language is dangerous, telling the panel, “The LSE Act is a bad law, not because of its spirit, but because of its failure to provide the necessary restrictions, standards, and guidelines required in order for the original intent to be successfully realized.”
Wood called for more controls to prevent “mere nonsense masquerading as a viable alternative” in classrooms.
Americans United weighed in as well. AU State Legislative Counsel Elise Helgesen advised committee members that the Science Act “inserts religion into public school science classrooms, harms Louisiana’s public school students, and results in financial costs to a state already in the midst of economic crisis.”
Alas, enough senators could not be moved.
In what must have been a surreal moment, Sen. Elbert Guillory (D-Opelousas) told a story about how he found relief from an unspecified ailment, apparently by visiting some type of voodoo practitioner. Guillory said that experience makes him reluctant to “lock the door on being able to view ideas from many places, concepts from many cultures.”
According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Guillory said, “Yet if I closed my mind when I saw this man – in the dust, throwing some bones on the ground, semi-clothed – if I had closed him off and just said, ‘That’s not science. I’m not going to see this doctor,’ I would have shut off a very good experience for myself.”
A different perspective was put forth by Rep. Walt Leger (D-New Orleans), who told the committee that the law has been a “severe detriment” to the state and added that the day will come when it is repeated.
“The question is, what side of history will you be on?” Leger asked.
Louisiana is a tough state, but Kopplin and his supporters are in it for the long haul. Recently, Zack took to the pages of the Guardian in Britain to explain how the Science Act is hurting Louisiana’s reputation.
Luckily, Zack and his supporters have no intention of giving up. Better luck next time.