On Wednesday, with just two weeks left in the legislative session, the Louisiana House of Representatives approved SB 733, a bill intended to facilitate the teaching of creationism in public schools.
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn promptly responded, calling the proposed law an "embarrassment" and guaranteeing legal action if the measure is used "to promote religion in Louisiana public schools."
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Center for Science Education, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the National Association of Biology Teachers and the new grassroots Louisiana Coalition for Science, decry the legislation as a poorly disguised attempt to bring creationism and its latest variant "intelligent design" (ID), into the classroom under the guise of academic freedom.
In response to statements by Lynn and threats of legal challenges, the Discovery Institute (DI), a conservative think tank that champions ID and helped push SB 733, resorted to name-calling AU "Chicken Littles." I believe that if Darwin were still alive to know that in 2008 American public schools are still being pressured to teach creationism he might be inclined to think the sky actually is falling.
Louisiana is not the only state in which the DI has attempted to push its creationist agenda this year. Similar bills have been introduced in five other state legislatures: Florida, Alabama, Missouri, Michigan, and South Carolina. (In Florida, Alabama and Missouri, the bills have died without passing, although Florida came awfully close.)
While the Discovery Institute and the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF), an affiliate of James Dobson's Focus on the Family, claim that the bill they helped Sen. Bill Nevers introduce is merely intended to promote open debate and not creationism, the argument is a shameless sham.
On its Web site, the LFF offers a textbook addendum on creationism; this is the exact type of material that SB 733 is intended to invite into the classroom. Additionally, Casey Luskin, DI Program Officer for Public Policy and Legal affairs asserted that the Louisiana bill is a "significant step forward" in allowing teachers to teach "scientific evidence for and against evolution." In fact, DI is known for its commitment to religious certainties, not scientific evidence.
Federal courts have already struck down similar statutes intended to bring religion into the classrooms. In 1987, the Supreme Court invalidated a Louisiana law requiring "creation science" to be taught alongside evolution in Edwards v. Aguillard, and in 2005 a federal district court stuck down a policy in Dover, Pa., requiring the teaching of ID in Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School Districts. Both courts defined creationism or ID as clearly religious and therefore unconstitutional in public school science classes.
Barbara Forrest, a professor of philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University and an expert witness in the Kitzmiller case, argues: "The legislature shouldn't be allowing creationists to undermine Louisiana public schools. The House of Representatives just gave the Religious Right a green light to use other people's children for their own agenda."
Perhaps the sky isn't falling, but American United staff members are certainly not "Chicken Littles" for blowing the whistle on the great injustice about to be dealt to Louisiana public school pupils.