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Evolution Debate in Louisiana (05/09/11)

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Recent Action

The evolution debate in Louisiana is open again. Baton Rouge high school senior Zack Kopplin has spearheaded an effort to support SB 70, legislation to repeal the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act. Similar to Tennessee’s proposed HB 368, Louisiana’s current law permits teachers to single out certain scientific theories, including evolution and global warming, as controversial, and to teach alternate theories.  A collection of scientists, including 42 Nobel laureates have signed on to Kopplin’s efforts. Kopplin’s website which includes the names of all 42 Nobel laureates and more can be found here. (04/11)

Previous Action

The Louisiana Department of Education sent general guidelines to their public schools in August about how to deal with the new supplemental education law entitled “Louisiana Science Education Act”. The law allows teachers to bring in supplementary materials related to science. The law states: "The state... shall allow and assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators to create and foster an environment... that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied, including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning. (Section 1B)”

The city, parish or local school district is suppose to approve of the supplementary materials before they are used in any classes, but they have no guidelines about such materials. The letter is meant to provide some general advice until the department can formulate more formal guidelines through the Louisiana Handbook for School Administrators. The letter states that “Religious theories cannot be advanced under the guise of critical thinking. Written materials or oral presentations that teach creationism or intelligent design or that advance the religious belief that a supernatural being created humankind or that state that evolution is only a theory are prohibited.”

There is concern that this law is meant to challenge the teaching of evolution and science and to allow religious and other non-scientific materials to be brought in as supplements. The legislative language is similar to arguments and language prepared by the Discovery Institute, a private religious-based institution that promotes the teaching of religious concepts, such as intelligent design and creationism in public schools.

The legislation went from introduction to law in a few months and has caught the school system unprepared to deal with the requirements. Administrators and schools will now have to spend time and resources on developing guidelines for this unfunded mandate and will also have to deal with any lawsuits brought by any individuals about any supplementary materials that might be used.

There is concern that similar laws might be implemented in other states. Similar legislation has been introduced in Florida, Missouri, Michigan, South Carolina and Alabama already and other states may consider supplementary material bills in the future. (9/08)

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Governor Bobby Jindal signed the Louisiana Science Education Act, which allows the use of supplementary materials in the teaching of any scientific theory and expressly mentions evolution, origin of life, global warming and stem cell research as examples of such theories. The bill, which was overwhelmingly passed by the state legislature, is viewed by many as a back-door attempt to allow the teaching of creationism/intelligent design in the science classroom. Although the bill gives the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education authority to prohibit the use of supplementary materials approved by the local school districts, it does not outline a mechanism for the oversight of these materials. (06/08)

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On April 17, the Senate Education Committee passed legislation that would allow teachers to use state-approved “supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials” and would provide teachers with guidance on “effective ways to help students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the strengths and weaknesses of scientific theories." The language of the legislation focuses on “teaching the controversy, “meaning it allows the teaching of religious beliefs in the science classroom. (5/2/08)

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State senator Ben Nevers filed legislation that would allow the teaching of creationism in the classroom.  The text of the legislation (SB 561) states that "the teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy". The bill permits Louisiana's teachers to "help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.” (03/08)

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On June 23, 2003, the Louisiana Legislature adjourned its current session, which included three legislative proposals with anti-evolution implications. HB 1782 sought to "[prohibit] any branch, department, agency, official, employee, or other entity of state government or of any political subdivision from knowingly printing or distributing material that contains information that is false or fraudulent." This bill is similar to a bill that was defeated in Arkansas in 2001 (HB 2548). The Arkansas bill went further by listing many standard creationist claims. According to the National Center for Environmental Education's website, well-known creationist Kent Hovind testified as an "expert" for that bill, and it was noted that the bill contained claims listed in a notorious anti-evolution comic book by Jack Chick. House Bill 1782 was considered by the Louisiana House of Representatives on April 30th. After 15 minutes of discussion on the House floor, the bill was tabled by a vote of 57 to 34. While the House bill was not brought up again before the Legislature adjourned and is now considered "dead," the Senate companion bill, SB1125, was introduced in the Louisiana State Senate on April 29th and referred to the Committee on Senate and Governmental Affairs.

The digest of SB1125, available on the legislature's web site, summarizes it as follows: "Proposed law prohibits any branch, department, agency, official, employee, or other entity of state government or of any political subdivision from knowingly and intentionally printing or distributing material that contains information that is illegal, false, or fraudulent. Specifies that 'distribute'also includes delivery or conveyance of information by mail, electronic mail, or publication by print or internet or website posting. Provides that any administrative head or any employee acting without the authorization of his administrative superior shall be personally liable for the costs of the printing or distribution of any material in violation of proposed law. Any public funds expended for such printing or distribution may be recovered by the state or political subdivision in a civil action instituted by any taxpayer, the attorney general, or the district attorney of the parish in which the violation occurred." The Senate committee never took any action on SB1125.

In a related legislative move, on April 1st, Louisiana Representative Ben Nevers introduced House Concurrent Resolution 50, which "[e]ncourages city, parish, and other local public school systems to refrain from purchasing certain textbooks." The resolution states that "in the effort to encourage the development of students' critical thinking skills, city, parish, and other local public school systems should refrain from purchasing textbooks that do not present a balanced view of the various theories relative to the origin of life but rather refer to one theory as proven fact." HCR50 also contains verbatim an amendment by Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) that failed to be attached to the No Child Left Behind Act. If passed, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education would have to distribute the resolution to all 66 school systems in the state. That would lay a foundation for the next move by creationists, most of whom favor Intelligent Design (ID) as an alternative way to bring their beliefs into the classroom. The resolution was referred to the Education Committee on April 2nd and no action was taken before the legislature adjourned. An Acrobat (PDF) document containing full text is available from the legislature's web site. (revised 8/29/03)

Sources: American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Geophysical Union, Associated Press, Association for Women Geoscientists, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Duluth News Tribune, Kansas Geological Survey, Library of Congress, Maryville Tennessee Daily Times, National Academies, National Center for Science Education, National Science Teachers Association, Pioneer Press, Rocky Mountain News, Santa Fe New Mexican, WCCO-TV, The Dallas Morning News, The Austin American-Statesman, The Houston Chronicle.

Background section includes material from AGI's Update on State Challenges to the Teaching of Evolution for the 106th Congress.

Contributed by David Applegate and Emily Lehr, AGI Government Affairs Program, 2003 AGI/AAPG Spring Semester Intern Charna Meth, and 2003 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern Emily Scott.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated on October 8, 2008.


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