Will Louisiana public schools soon be teaching religious concepts in science class?
That's the question coming before the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education this week.
According to the Baton Rouge Advocate, the board is scheduled to act on guidelines for the teaching of "controversial" subjects such as evolution.
In reality, of course, instruction about evolution in biology class is not controversial at all to scientists, educators and most parents. But the Religious Right and its pliant political allies persist in trying to make it so.
As you may recall, the new Science Education Act passed by the Louisiana legislature last year allows teachers to use "supplemental materials" when discussing evolution. Under the guise of "academic freedom," fundamentalist Christians and their friends want to use this loophole to introduce creationist concepts into the classroom.
Advocate reporter Will Sentell says, however, that those plans may be thwarted. An advisory panel set up by the state Department of Education, he reports, "has recommended guidelines that won praise from opponents of the law."
Sentell notes that Barbara Forrest, co-founder of the Louisiana Coalition for Science (and an Americans United trustee), said the proposed rules would block any efforts to inject creationism (or its latest iteration, "intelligent design") under the guise of science.
"I don't think there is anything in there that is going to give very much room to anyone who wants to teach creationism or who wants to undermine evolution," Forrest told the newspaper.
But theocracy-minded forces are on the prowl.
Gene Mills, executive director of the Louisiana Family Forum, told the Advocate that he is cautiously optimistic that his organization can derail the guidelines. Mills, a driving force behind the new law, blasted the proposed rules as evidence of "religious hostility" that went beyond the intent of lawmakers. He called the regulations a "cheap shot."
Here's hoping that the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education ignores Mills and does the right thing when it addresses this issue this week. A lot of people will be watching.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State has already promised to file a lawsuit if Louisiana public schools start teaching religious concepts in biology classes.
The state school board can forestall that expensive and time-consuming prospect by issuing firm, clear guidelines that uphold sound science and the church-state separation provisions of the U.S. Constitution.