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LA Science Education Act: The Place for Creationism in LA Public - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Update: LA Science Education Act: The Place for Creationism in LA Public Schools

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Lousiana -

Update as of February 26th: Senator Karen Carter Peterson (D-New Orleans) recently filed SB 175 to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act.  More information can be found here.

A recent lawsuit has refueled the discussion locally and nationally of separation between church and state.  The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Sabine Parish School Board alleging officials at one of its public schools harassed a sixth-grader because of his faith. Further complicating an already controversial issue, Louisiana has a unique law about creationism in public schools.

"Schools can't advance religion, but they also can't actively inhibit religion," says Dr. Christopher Parker, a political science professor at Centenary College.  Often called "the establishment clause" neither the state nor federal government can pass laws regarding the establishment of religion - but what that means is up for interpretation.

"Some sort of extreme position is that it means that government can't simply mandate an official religion, or set an official state religion," says Dr. Parker.  "That position has never really taken a hold in the Supreme Court.  Some interpret it to be a strict wall, separation between church and state, where they shouldn't be involved at all."

Into this gray area of how to interpret the First amendment - comes the place for creationism in the classroom.  And that one issue has been the focus of a handful of lawsuits at both ends of the spectrum.  Dr. Parker says there have been two big cases. "One, striking down an Arkansas Law that banned the teaching of evolution in the 1960s.  And in 1987, they struck down a Louisiana law that mandated the teaching of creationism along with evolution."

And that's where the Louisiana Science Education Act comes in.  Passed in 2008, the law allows teachers to use supplemental texts to evaluate, critique, and analyze scientific theories.  Only Louisiana and Tennessee have this type of law.  "Louisiana's current law doesn't really go that far and is worded in such a way to avoid the same problems from the law in the 1980s," he says.  "There's actually a specific clause within the law that says the law is not to be construed as a way to associate with a single religious view or any religious view.  And it doesn't actually mention creationism."

We asked Dr. Parker what supplemental material there is out there that isn't religious.

"That's sort of the sub-text to the amendment.  It's pretty clearly geared towards allowing teachers to teach creationism in addition to evolution. And that really hasn't been settled by the court."

Dr. Parker says the real debate is how it's being taught—whether in a secular manner, or a religious one.  He says the court acknowledges that creationism may have some secular value, say, in a philosophy class.  But Dr. Parker says teaching it as a scientific theory, on par with evolution, is problematic.

One local high school graduate has become a political activist around this issue. Zack Kopplin has been working for the last three years to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act. 

"The problem is, evolution doesn't have any scientific critiques, and the only types of critiques that can be brought into these classes are religious.  And that's the whole point of this law.  The sponsor of this bill, Senator Ben Nevers, says it was to have creationism taught wherever Darwin's theory was taught.  And the governor who signed it, our governor, Bobby Jindal, said this was about teaching creationism in public schools,"  says Kopplin.  

He says his movement has support from major science organizations and 78 Nobel laureate scientists.  Now, he says he needs support from the state legislature to do complete his goal. 

"When you teach creationism, you undermine kids' biology education, evolution is central to biology.  So if you ever want to go into a biology related field then these kids are going to struggle if they've been taught creationism.  They're going to struggle getting into college too.  the college's are going to look at their applications and see they came from a state like Louisiana; We can look at this kid from Connecticut, and we can look at this kid from Louisiana, they have similar scores, they're very similar, but we don't know if this kid has as good of a science education as maybe the kid from the East Coast," says Kopplin.  "Worst of all, when you teach kids Creationism, you're going to confuse them about the scientific method."

But are districts using Creationism as a supplemental material?

"What we do know, at least district wide policy wide, that it is being used.  Livingston Parish School Board has talked about using this law to teach creationism in public schools…Across the country, 13% of teachers blatantly teach creationism. And another 16%of teachers don't teach evolution, or teach both sides.  And this law sort of provides an extra incentive to do it."

But what about those who feel scientific theory is counter to their religion?

"I would go ask him to re-read what Pope John Paul said, which said there is no conflict between evolution and the doctrine of faith. There are many people who have found a way to have both their beliefs and their acceptance of science. There are two separate spheres, many people can accept both.  The problem is those people that can't those people want to put religion in the classroom where it doesn't belong.  But that's not an issue for science, that's an issue that they haven't found a way to accept their beliefs and accept the reality of science," says Kopplin.  "All science is is the explanation of the natural world.  Key word is natural, not supernatural.  We can't explain with science the supernatural, it does not try to."

"The Supreme Court hasn't really weighed in one way or another whether or not simply allowing teachers, giving them the option to teach creationism in the science classroom is unconstitutional," says Dr. Parker.

But aside from creationism, what religious activities are constitutional in public schools?

"There are schools in the south that will have school prayer to open up the day or bible readings to open up the day and that's unconstitutional, but again the supreme court has no mechanism for enforcing that other than reviewing cases that come up," says Dr. Parker. He says a school can allow student-run religious groups as long as they are voluntary and after school.  But during the day and at games, it's more problematic. "There is precedent that suggests even if it is student led, student run, if this school is sort of allowing it to be conducted on school property, it carries with it a school endorsement and still considered to be an inappropriate connection between church and state."

 

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