Americans United for Separation of Church and State has urged Louisiana education officials to revise proposed science guidelines to make it clear that religion cannot be taught in public schools.
AU’s comments came in a June 5 letter to Amy B. Westbrook, executive director of the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. AU State Legislative Counsel Dena S. Sher advised the board that several changes it made to the guidelines should be rescinded.
Specifically, AU recommends restoring language to the policies stating, “Religious beliefs shall not be advanced under the guise of encouraging critical thinking.” This language, AU asserts, would effectively block advocates of “intelligent design” and other forms of creationism from inserting their ideas into science classes.
AU also recommended that language be put back into the guidelines making it clear that materials that promote creationism are not to be used in science classes.
Current board language simply says supplemental material “shall not promote any religious doctrine.” AU wants to see stronger language that mentions creationism and intelligent design by name.
Observed the AU letter, “Removing this statement only engenders confusion and suggests an intent to invite constitutional violations.”
The AU missive also recommends that the board streamline its process for dealing with challenges to supplemental materials that promote creationism. AU says the board should put such decisions in the hands of professional educators in the Department of Education rather than create an unwieldy process that, AU asserts, is really designed to be an “opportunity for a show trial to promote the merits of ‘intelligent design’ or other forms of creationism.”
In addition to Sher, the letter was also signed by Patti Garner, president of Americans United’s Baton Rogue Chapter, and Barbara Forrest, a Southeastern Louisiana University professor who serves on AU’s Board of Trustees.
Creationism has been a persistent problem in Louisiana. In the 1980s, the state passed a “balanced treatment” law mandating that creationism be taught alongside evolution in pubic schools, a measure that was later invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court.