New Creationist Strategy Claims To Champion ‘Academic Freedom’

Advocates of teaching creationism in public school science classes are back with a new strategy: legislation that claims to support “academic freedom.”

The tactic has surfaced recently in Louisiana and Florida. In Louisiana, a bill has been introduced that would ostensibly encourage teachers to examine all sides of “controversial” issues – such as evolution, cloning and global warming.

Sen. Ben Nevers, a Bogalusa Democrat, insists SB 561 isn’t designed to pave the way for creationism. But critics point out that by singling out evolution as “controversial,” Nevers is echoing standard creationist rhetoric.

Nevers admits he introduced the bill at the behest of the Louisiana Family Forum, a Religious Right organization that has long sought to undermine science education in the Pelican State. The Louisiana Family Forum is not a scientific organization; rather, its goal is to integrate its fundamentalist dogma with public policy.

Louisiana has seen numerous attempts to bring creationism into public schools. It was a Louisiana law that mandated “balanced treatment” between evolution and creationism that the Supreme Court struck down in 1987’s Edwards v. Aguillard.

Since then, various Louisiana school districts and parishes have tried other ways to undermine the teaching of evolution. Tangipahoa Parish tried “disclaimer” stickers in biology books. (That failed in court, too.)

James Gill, a staff writer for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, criticized the bill in a March 30 column.

“The bill is of no conceivable benefit to anyone but Christian proselytizers,” Gill wrote. “Besides, its genesis is plainly sectarian.”

The bill is based on a policy adopted by the Ouachita Parish School Board in November of 2006. The parish – counties in Louisiana are called parishes – has been sued several times by the American Civil Liberties Union for adopting policies that violate church-state separation.

In Florida, meanwhile, a Senate committee has approved a bill that says teachers cannot be punished or denied tenure for “objectively” presenting information that undermines evolution.

SB 2692, sponsored by Sen. Ronda Storms (R-Brandon), passed the education committee on a 4-1 vote in March and the judiciary committee on a 7-3 vote in April. It was introduced after the Florida Board of Education voted in February to adopt new science standards that stress evolution.

In an April 7 letter, Americans United warned that the Florida bill “would harm Florida’s public school students and lead to costly litigation.”