Louisiana Student Gears Up For Attack On State’s Anti-Science Law

A Louisiana law designed to undermine the teaching of evolution in public schools is under attack from someone who knows best why it’s dangerous: a high school student.

Zachary Kopplin, a senior at Baton Rouge Magnet High School, wants to see the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act repealed, and he’s working with state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans) to garner support for a bill she plans to introduce next month to get rid of the legislation.

The bill was signed into law in 2008 by Gov. Bobby Jindal after being heavily pushed by the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF), a Religious Right organization that is an affiliate of the James Dobson-founded Focus on the Family. The measure allows teachers to introduce “supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials” about evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning into the classroom.

At the time, Americans United warned that the bill was merely another attempt by creationists to slip fundamentalist religion into biology classes – an issue that has been a persistent problem in the Pelican State.

In November 2010, the LFF started to use the law to chip away at evolution and sound science standards by claiming the state’s biology textbooks give too much credibility to Charles Darwin’s theory. Under the Science Education Act, they argued, science education must expand to include more than just the theory of evolution, but also “intelligent design,” the latest variant of creationism.

Kopplin has been working to rally opposition to the law. One of his first stops was a Darwin Day event sponsored by the Louisiana Chapter of Americans United in mid-February at a Unitarian church in Baton Rouge.

Kopplin told attendees that the law is “embarrassing.”

When the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Textbook/Media/Library Advisory Council held a hearing to deliberate curriculum materials, Kopplin testified in support of sound science textbooks.

“Louisiana students deserve to be taught proper science that will prepare us for success in the global economy,” he said. “Quite frankly, all the Louisiana Science Education Act does is create an unconstitutional loophole to sneak the teaching of creationism or intelligent design in public school science classes. When a school district does try to use this law for its intended purpose, it will quickly be shot down by the courts.

“So there is no need for this committee to try to jump ahead with such a costly and unproductive effort,” Kopplin continued, “one that will only embarrass our state and harm our students who need to be properly educated and well prepared for success in the global economy.”

Concluded Kopplin, “Please stand tall and endorse life science textbooks that teach real science rather than undermine it.”

Kopplin’s testimony (and that of other supporters of sound science and church-state separation) was helpful. The council voted 8-4 to recommend that the board adopt biology textbooks solidly grounded in evolution and disregard the LFF’s comments. In December, the full Board of Elementary and Secondary Education followed through, voting 8-2 to approve the textbooks.

The Baton Rouge Advocate praised Kopplin for taking on the fight against the LFF, which has the support of many influential people in Louisiana.

“It would have seemed, nevertheless, a mismatch: Young Kopplin’s earnest and articulate defense of science against the Family Forum, headed by the Rev. Gene Mills, one of the most powerful influences in the State Capitol these days,” the newspaper wrote. “But as when David met Goliath, the young man prevailed against the Philistines.”