Is the Louisiana legislature about to make a tremendous mistake?
It sure looks like it. Despite frantic objections from public school teachers, the scientific community and advocates of church-state separation, the House education committee yesterday approved unanimously a Religious Right bill designed to undercut the teaching of evolution.
As the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported today, Senate Bill 733 would allow Louisiana public school science teachers to use "supplemental materials" when discussing evolution, global warming and human cloning.
That may sound innocuous, but in fact, the measure is meant to swing open the door to bogus "scientific" materials undercutting the teaching of evolution. The bill is the handiwork of the Louisiana Family Forum, the Discovery Institute and others forces determined to damage science education and roll back constitutional safeguards. They're using "academic freedom" as a wedge to break down the wall of separation between church and state.
Yesterday's hearing was packed with home-schoolers wearing stickers in support of the bill. Home schoolers won't be affected by the measure, of course, so it doesn't take much analysis to see what's going on here. (Kids, you may have learned something about politics, but you flunked science. Be sure to tell your momma when you get home so she can change your report cards.)
Rep. Ben Nevers (D- Bogalusa) is the chief sponsor of the bill, and he heatedly denied that the scheme is intended to smuggle religion into the classroom.
"There is no language in here submitted by some secret agent trying to teach religion in public schools," he huffed.
That's enough Louisiana baloney to make a nice po'boy. It wouldn't be very tasty, though.
The Washington Post had it exactly right earlier this week.
"No one would think it acceptable for a teacher to question the existence of gravity or to suggest that two plus two equals anything but four," The Post editorialized. "It's mystifying, then, that a movement to undermine the teaching of evolutionary biology is attracting some support. Equally perverse is that this misguided effort is being advanced under the false guise of academic freedom
"What's insidious about these measures," The Post continued, "is that at first blush they appear so harmless. Isn't everyone in favor of academic freedom? What's so wrong about allowing all sides of an issue to be heard? Why should teachers be punished for speaking their minds? Those arguments might have standing if there were any doubt about the reality of evolution, but, as an official with the National Academy of Sciences told The Wall Street Journal, 'There's no controversy.'
"Consider, also, that there really is no such thing as academic freedom in elementary and secondary education," The Post concluded. "A teacher can't deviate from the accepted curriculum to present alternative lesson plans or to offer his or her own notions.... Clearly, the strategy is to devise an end run around legal decisions – going all the way to the Supreme Court – that restrict the teaching of creationism in public classrooms."
SB 733 is a step backward, dragging science education in Louisiana toward the medieval swamp of theocracy.